CHESTER, VA – Mellow sounds resonated throughout the L. C. Bird auditorium last Saturday. Bridges of critical thinking and teamwork were being built through...

CHESTER, VA – Mellow sounds resonated throughout the L. C. Bird auditorium last Saturday. Bridges of critical thinking and teamwork were being built through music for over 20 elementary and middle schools students during a steel drum workshop.

Following the two-hour workshop, the young pannists performed in the evening in a steel drum showcase which also featured groups from Longwood University, The Rhythm Project All Stars from Hampton Roads and L. C. Bird’s Hands and Pans Steel Drum Project.

Funmi Ogungbade, a senior at James River High School and a pannist herself, organized the event with the help of her advisor Bryan Sheetz, a teacher at Salem Middle School and director of the Hands and Pans Steel Drum Project at L. C. Bird High School.

Ogungbade is enrolled in the Specialty Center for Leadership and International Relations at James River High School, and is required to complete a senior Capstone Project, which is a project that culminates all of the cornerstones of the Specialty Center; Perspectives, Communications, Ethics, and Service, into something that gives back to the community.

She has been a member of the Hands and Pans ensemble since she was in the fourth grade and is a passionate pannist and felt organizing a workshop to get kids interested in music was a natural fit. She named the workshop “Music in our Schools.” The attendees also received a workshop for their efforts during the workshop and Music in our Schools t-shirt.

The Hands and Pans Steel Drum Project began in 2007 as a musical ensemble with the use of steel drums and hand percussion to help students reach goals of an integrated curriculum in music across grades four through 12. Manchester High School was the feeder program focusing first on the Chalkey Elementary, Manchester Middle and Manchester High Schools forming the only three school level Steel Drum Ensemble in Virginia. The project moved to L. C. Bird High School last fall and now serves as the feeder school and has expanded to include all area elementary and middle schools.

Qgungbade visions the workshop as a way for students to become interested in music and steel pans and want to continue as a member of the Hands and Pans ensemble. “I have been a member of this ensemble since 2006 and in my tenth and final year,” she said. “I wanted to do something that would leave a mark for years to come on the ensemble that has impacted my life so much.” She would like to see the workshop and concert as a yearly event.

In spring of 2008, the ensemble was awarded Chesterfield Education Foundation’s MCD Grant for Initiative and Innovation in Educational Practices. In spring of 2009, the ensemble was awarded The Muzak Heart and Soul Foundation’s Grant for “Redefining Music Education.” The ensemble has performed at the Children’s Museum of Richmond, Stony Point Fashion Park, the Virginia State PTA Conference, and Barnes and Noble, as well as a performance for the ribbon cutting of Richmond’s CenterStage.

Sheetz has been with the Hands and Pans Steel Drum Project from the beginning. He was very excited about the workshop and Qgungbade’s work of pulling everything together. The kids were really excited with the steel pan too. “It is instant gratification for them,” Sheetz said about the kids learning to play the steel drums. “The steel pans instantly make a sound and they get it.”

All students interested in auditioning and for more information should contact Sheetz at

By Linda Fausz