Goodwill Industries of the West Indies Steel Orchestra Shines
September 1, 2010
Since she first took the helm of Goodwill Industries of the West Indies (Port of Spain, Trinidad) in 1998, CEO Barbara Alleyne sought a way for program participants to express themselves. She thought from the start that music could be the outlet for such expression. After many years struggling to find people willing to loan steel pans to the Goodwill, someone donated a set at the end of last year. With that donation, the Goodwill Industries Steel Orchestra was born.
As Goodwill program participants were exposed to the steel pan — the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago — and to this avenue of musical expression, Goodwill staff saw a noted transformation in the self-esteem of many.
“I saw clients that seemed angry and uninterested in almost anything smile,” says Education Specialist Shakir London.
After much insistence from Alleyne, the orchestra was eventually given entrance to perform at its first ever National School Panorama Competition, as the only school for persons with disabilities to ever take part in the event. “Words cannot express how much just being at [the competition] impacted our clients,” says Alleyne.
“What touched me the most came after the competition,” says London. “I saw a new self-confidence as each [musician] became a mentor by teaching what they learned to other clients.”
Participants were extremely motivated as the steel orchestra became a symbol of pride, and it was clear that nothing could keep the members from the practice sessions.
“Our clientele showed a willingness to learn and master the instrument once introduced to it, and many who found difficulty in numeracy and literacy showed marked improvement, ” observes Alleyne.
London further noted the growth of participants during process. “Through perseverance, I saw individuals with learning disabilities and developmental delays learn to follow patterns and tempos when playing notes,” he reflects. “I saw the faces of some with autism and Down syndrome light up as they understood how what they played contributed to the orchestra. I saw one hearing impaired young man match the rhythm of each song by feeling the vibrations around him and observing his peers.”
Participation at the National School Panorama Competition yielded great success for all who participated. Even though the Goodwill Industries Steel Orchestra was the smallest group in instrument size and in number of musicians, the group placed ninth out of 26 in its category.