January 4, 2019
Todd Hartman, Director
Ambridge Steel Drum Band
French planters and their slaves immigrated to Trinidad in 1789 during the French Revolution. They came from Martinique, Saint Vincent, Grenada and Dominica and established a local community in what is now known as Trinidad and Tobago. Arriving with the French slaves was the tradition known as Carnival, in which music was played out primitively with bamboo sticks.
As with most other things, time moves on and so have the methods by which music is played in various cultures. By 1937, the bamboo sticks of Trinidad/Tobago music makers were replaced by the artifacts of advancing civilizations: frying pans, dustbin lids, and oil drums. Enter 1941 and the arrival of the U.S. Navy in Trinidad. Soldiers and sailors of the U.S. military were attracted to this strange musical genre and helped to popularize steel pan music among the soldiers, which began its international popularization.
Shaping, brazing, plating, polishing, embossing, and even tuning sheet metal shaped into “oil drums” has caused steel drum music to become a sophisticated art form practiced by skilled musicians. Steel drum music is played world-wide and echoes the traditions of Trinidad/Tobago.
We will be privileged to experience an example of “steel drum” music as the first SMC program for 2019. The Ambridge Area High School Steel Band, under the direction of Todd Hartman, has received national recognition for its outstanding musical ability, unique style, and infectious energy. Founded by Sal Aloe and with the help of Phil Solomon, a local steel pan builder, the steel pan art form at Ambridge took off and acquired popularity. Zana, as he took the program to new heights by building a reputation that expanded beyond Bridger Country. After Mr. Zana’s retirement in 1999, Todd Hartman took over and has been leading the program ever since.
Since its inception in 1988, the steel drum program has grown from five students participating after school to an average of sixty band students enrolled in three levels of classes spread over four periods during the school day. Their current musical repertoire reflects a diverse collection of styles including traditional calypso & soca, big band swing, afro-cuban, latin-jazz, classical, pop, and tropical-rock.
The steel band was one of only three high school groups from across the nation selected to perform at two of the American Association of School Administrators National Conferences, one of which gave them an opportunity to open up for Steven Spielberg’s keynote address in San Francisco. Additionally, they have been to three National School Board Association Conferences, and most recently, performed for over 9,000 engineers and vendors from all over the world at the annual Association for Iron and Steel Technology’s International Conference.
The band has shared the Heinz Hall stage with the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops and has appeared annually in B.E. Taylor’s popular Christmas show. Since 2002, the steel band has been invited to perform for cultural outreach assemblies at thirty different school districts located around the Pittsburgh area and has performed at twelve different higher learning institutions. Their most memorable experience came when they played with the marching band in the 2004 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. It marked the first time in the 115 year history of the parade that a steel band combined with a marching band. Taking the reins shortly thereafter was the late Richard Zana, as he took the program to new heights by building a reputation that expanded beyond Beaver County. After Mr. Zana’s retirement in 1999, Todd Hartman took over and has been leading the program ever since. Since its inception in 1988, the steel drum program has grown from five students participating after school to an average of sixty band students enrolled in three levels of classes spread over four periods during the school day. Their current musical repertoire reflects a diverse collection styles, including traditional calypso and soca, big band swing, afro- Cuban, Latin-jazz, classical, pop, and tropical rock.