A beautiful noise

Published 8:06 pm Saturday, September 24, 2016

The sound of rhythmic clanking reverberated off the walls of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Tuesday evening. Opening the door to the source of the noise revealed a room full of children hammering away at concave silver contraptions.

A dread-headed black man was hunched over a student as he motioned what areas of the instrument, referred to as a steelpan, to hit to get a desired sound. Seemingly unfazed by the noise, in the corner of the room, parents attended to their reading and conversations.

“I enjoy the sound,” said James McCullough Jr., one of the parents in attendance. “It is relaxing. It helps the kids and me to relax.”

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The steelpan has played a significant impact in a variety of ways to both the students and instructors.

“It’s fantastic,” said A.J. McCullough, 11, one of the students.

Michael Hall, one of the instructors, said the instrument validated “our heritage of making something out of nothing.”

Steelpans, part of the musical heritage of Trinidad and Tobago, are made from 55-gallon industrial barrels. The note patterns are marked on the surface of the instrument, and the oval sizes determine the pitch and tone — the larger the oval size, the lower the tone.

Dr. Anthony Hailey, the founder of the Mosaic Steel Orchestra, has played the instrument since he was 19.

As a student at East Carolina University, Hailey played with his music professor’s steelpan band.

“The instrument was something I could identify with,” Hailey said. “It was made by black people.”

During his time there, he was introduced to Elliot Mannette, who is considered the father of the modern steelpan instrument.

Mannette began his residency at West Virginia University, and Hailey followed suit for his graduate studies.

“He is a great man who taught me a lot about life,” Hailey said.

After graduating, Hailey was inspired to introduce the Hampton Roads area to the instrument. “We have a generation of kids that don’t have meaningful activities after school,” he said.

Since 1999, he has taught people of all ages about the culture and performance of the steelpan.

Hall, who first met Hailey during his demonstration as a middle school student, has been playing the steelpan ever since.

The band has played at various community events and competitions domestically and abroad.

Notably, in August of last year, they performed in the inaugural International Panorama in Trinidad and Tobago.

The competition attracted bands from all over the world, and Hailey’s band placed 21st in the world, according to Hall.

“It was one of the most awesome things I’ve done,” Hailey said.

For several years, the program has been hosted at several public schools and community centers within the region. However, this year, the band decided to get involved with the Renaissance School of Arts, an arts program primarily for home school students.

Hailey dreams to have the program established in all Hampton Roads schools and community centers.

“Steelpan fills a void,” he said. “It gives them so much joy and allows members of the community to be performers. It gives you a feeling like nothing else you can explain.”

For more information and inquiries about Mosaic Steel Orchestra, visit the website at www.MosaicSteelOrchestra.org, or contact Hailey at 625-0545 or at wahailey@mosaicsteelorchestra.org.