Since 1993, East of the River Steelband has provided music education and mentorship for youth ages 9 to 18. The program teaches steel pan music, an acoustic genre invented in Trinidad. The instructor is a professional steel pan master, Roger Greenridge, who uses the traditional Caribbean method of rote repetition and memorization without reading music. The program has created a renowned musical group that has performed many times around the DC area and regionally including at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Soccer Games in Atlanta.
While music is at the heart of the Steelband, it isn’t the group’s only focus. Its life skills training educates youth on substance abuse prevention, anger management, self-esteem, and self-improvement. This combination of musical and life training has garnered excellent results for East of the River Steelband alumni: 95 percent of youth graduate high school and 80 percent go on to college. This month, we asked Executive Director Linda Y. Fisher to tell us more.
Who can join East of the River Steelband?
Any District of Columbia youth, age 12-18 can join the Steelband. Most members are from communities east of the Anacostia River, particularly Ward 7.
How do your students benefit from musical education?
Students learn the discipline of music instruction and performance. They develop an ‘ear’ for music and many pursue other musical training and instruments.
Can you give us more information on your Life Skills program?
The life skills program helps to prepare our young people for the experiences they may encounter in their family, school and community. It provides academic reinforcement, behavioral and health awareness, social skills, understanding money and peer education.
Tell us more about your intergenerational mentorship program.
The band has been traditionally supported by elders from the community. They accompany youth on performances, play management and support roles for band performances. Most critically, they develop relationships with the young people and help guide them along life’s path.
We hear the band has played on an international level. Where are some places that you’ve played outside the U.S.?
The band has travelled to Trinidad and Tobago a few times to share with young people there. Trinidad and Tobago is the home of the steel drum. Also, the band has played in Canada, at a Caribbean-style festival in Toronto.
You have some awards listed on your website. Which one makes you the proudest?
We are most proud of the Mayor’s Arts Award because it is home-grown recognition of the importance and ability of the Steelband.
How can the community support East of the River Steelband?
Support the Steelband by engaging the band for performances in support of their programs and activities. Financial support is always welcomed as it provides a way to not only support music education, but to bring the sound of steel pans to underserved communities.