Belle Terre Elementary teacher fundraises to expand student steel drum band, sharing her passion for the culture of Trinidad
Belle Terre Elementary School is hoping to keep creating the sound of the islands in the land of the Bobcats — the island of Trinidad, to be exact.
BTES sixth-grade teacher Ashley Allen and her husband, Matanzas High School fine arts teacher Jared Allen, have a passion for steel drums, and they’re sharing that passion with their students.
Jared Allen lived in Trinidad from August 2015 to August 2016 to earn a master’s degree in carnival studies — the study of Carnival, which includes steel drums and Panorama, an international steelpan competition.
“After we have visited Trinidad, I really started getting into it more, as well,” Ashley Allen said. “Just based on seeing their culture and seeing how much of a part of the culture it is there — just in watching them play and the excitement, it’s that very ‘island Caribbean’ kind of feel. And when you feel it and play it, you can’t help but dance around.”
She is working to secure more than $600 to meet their about $1,000 goal on DonorsChoose.org to be able to purchase two new tenor steel drums for the BTES Bobcat Steel, a steel drum after-school club started at Belle Terre this past spring.
The idea was inspired by Matanzas High’s steel drum band when it visited the elementary school the previous spring.
For one hour a week, 10 BTES students learned how to play two songs on the steel drums. Currently, Belle Terre has five tenor pans, two tenor bass pans and a few shakers. Ashley Allen said she has until Aug. 8 to raise the remaining money to buy two more tenor pans so that more students can participate. The club is currently open to fifth-and sixth-graders, but there’s a waiting list of about 30 students who cannot join due to a lack of instruments.
“They really liked it,” she said about the first few months with the club. “It was half fifth-grade students and half sixth-grade because we wanted to take an equal balance, and that’ll help us next year because now we’ll have fifth-graders who have already played.”
Beyond practicing, the students were able to showcase their skills at three different performances throughout the spring.
“I know the practice, especially at first, is a little tedious and it’s not something they’re really used to,” Ashley Allen said. “But once we actually started performing, of course, that’s the fun part. Then they were like, ‘When do we play again? When do we play again?’”
She added that her students don’t have time to learn how to read music during the after-school session, so Jared Allen transcribes songs into letters that the students label on their drums to know where to play to hit the correct note.
“There’s not a steel band, at this point, at the middle school,” Ashley Allen said. “So, when they get to high school, then (Jared) starts them with learning the music.”
Jared Allen also plays in a community steel drum group in Orlando with his own personal set of steel drums.
When he started teaching originally in St. Petersburg, he was just thrust into the role of teaching steel drums, and it’s grown on him ever since.
“I didn’t choose it, it chose me,” Jared Allen said.