The Summit Academy has a problem.
The Akron middle and high school that addresses the social, emotional and academic needs of students with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and related disorders has a Steel Band Program that just keeps growing.
The charter school’s three-year-old Steel Band Program, which started with a few sticks and plastic buckets in a lunchroom, has grown to encompass three bands. The bands are: the Summit Academy Steel Dragons, made up of middle-schoolers; the Summit Academy Steel Spartans, which consists of high-school students; and the All-Star Band, which draws from both schools.
But the program is having a difficult time keeping up with the number of students who want to join the All-Star Band.
So on Wednesday night, the Summit Academy All-Star Band will hold a fundraising concert dubbed A Night of Caribbean Dreams at the Tangier in Akron featuring the 40-member veteran band along with guest performances by recording artists jazz-fusion pan man Jonathan Scales and steel-pan rock dude Tracy Thornton. All of the proceeds will go toward purchasing music equipment for the program.
“When I first started I had 15, last year we had 30 and this year we have over 70 that are just meeting our criteria for being in the All-Star Band — good grades, good behavior and just being an ambassador for the school,” program founder and Summit Academy music teacher Angel Lawrie said.
The fact that aspiring steel pan superstars must maintain a B average and exhibit no significant behavior issues hasn’t slowed the band’s growth from 33 students in 2012 to 75 members in 2013, necessitating breaking down the All-Star Band into veteran and beginner groups. The problem is Summit Academy simply doesn’t have enough instruments to reward the new members for all their hard work.
Lawrie said the ultimate goal is to raise $50,000 for instruments, music and music stands and other accessories to ensure that all of the students who want to join and earn the opportunity to do so will have the necessary tools to jump right in and start making music.
“We’re roughing it all the way and the kids are into it 110 percent and I don’t have anything that a normal school district or music program would have. I rely solely on donations from the community and we’re growing despite all of that,” Lawrie said.
Currently Lawrie has two regular rehearsals, one at the middle school followed by another at the high school, forcing her to load up and lug all of the drums and other music equipment constantly from one campus to the other.
Lawrie said the band’s success, which includes being invited twice to perform at the Charter School Alliance Convention in Columbus and performances at the Ohio Valley Festival of Steel in Steubenville, has raised the band’s profile within the school considerably. For many students, she said, joining the band is not just a fun thing to do but a source of pride among friends and family.
“They come to school and learn, but I think they come to school because they love playing in the band. It’s a big inspiring thing for them to do and it’s also very well respected here now, and it’s also part of their success and it’s their outreach to the community,” Lawrie said.
Lawrie’s unique work with Summit Academy students has not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, Lawrie was among 30,000 nominees for the inaugural Grammy Music Educator Award and she made it to the semi-final round of 50.
For the big show, the set list will contain some familiar tunes, including classic rock standards Pretty Woman and Octopus’s Garden along with a steel pan version of the dance track Heaven and Dain Bramage, an original tune by guest performer Thornton.
Lawrie, who frequently performs as half of the duo Steelin’ Hearts with her husband, Steve Lawrie (who hand-built many of the school bands’ drums), said the All-Star Band is pumped, primed and ready to show people what they can do.
“They cannot wait to play at Tangier,” Lawrie said.
“It’s going to be so cool for them to walk down the hallways and see the pictures of all the people who have performed at Tangier and know that they are going to be one of them now,” she said. “They’re really excited about that.”