Nonprofit to offer steel orchestra classes to youth in 5th through 12th grades

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A steel orchestra performs. (Photos courtesy Steel Magic Northwest)

A new non-profit organization is ready to teach local children and adults how to play the steel drum.

After two years of organizational preparation and fundraising, Steel Magic Northwest announced Tuesday that a new after school youth program will begin next month in Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline. The class will provide steel orchestra classes to kids in 5th through 12th grades. One evening class will also cater to adults.

A tuition waiver and sliding tuition scale is also available for families in need of assistance.

Although the steel band is not a new thing in the Seattle region, the creation of a sustainable, long-term, continuous youth program with nationally recognized leadership and the size necessary to create a full orchestral sound has eluded this area. Our model organizations have demonstrated the many community benefits of these programs, which have been active in other parts of the country since the mid 1960s.

Executive and Artistic Director Gary Gibson, a national champion of Trinidad’s premier steel band competition, and an international award winner in composition of steel pan music, founded the organization after “getting tired of getting on airplanes to see this done at its full potential,” and set out to create a new national model program in his own backyard, in south Snohomish County.

A steel orchestra class.
A steel orchestra class.

“This kind of music program is quite different than traditional band or orchestra or choir in many ways, and the benefits to the participants go much, much deeper than an education in music,” Gibson says. He says teamwork and leadership skills, in particular, are in play more in the steel band than any other musical ensemble type, and that players typically have more of a sense of responsibility to, and ownership of, the group.

He also emphasizes that, musically, the steel orchestra is capable of playing a wider variety of music styles than most groups.

“Caribbean styles like calypso and reggae are what most audiences expect to hear, but my groups also play classical music, jazz, funk, pop, you name it. Properly arranged and executed, there is nothing lacking,” Gibson said.

Steel drums
Steel drums bear the Steel Magic Northwest logo.

Gibson founded the organization in the summer of 2014, assembled a board of trustees, obtained IRS tax-exempt status, and raised more than $60,000 for a brand new set of steel orchestra instruments, complete with cases and carts and stands. The organization collaborated with the Edmonds School District to provide the steel band classes for the district’s Summer Music School in July, which resulted in the debut performance on the new instruments.

Steel Magic Northwest will launch its own community-based program starting on Sept. 26, with a 12-week course for youth. Classes are held in Edmonds, at the Edmonds Adventist Church, located at 8625 196th St. S.W. For more information, visit their website at www.steelmagicnorthwest.org. For more biographical information about Gary Gibson, click on “Our Key People.”

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