After finding a lack of steelpan education in his local community, Dr. Anthony Hailey worked to build a community of steelbands, eventually creating one to bring them all together.
Starting a steelband is hard work. It takes passion, drive and an unbreakable will to overcome multiple challenges. Steelan educator, Dr. Anthony Hailey, out to prove that he was prepared to meet those challenges head on, started Mosaic Steel Orchestra.
After gaining his steelpan knowledge from Dr. Ellie Mannette in the 1990s, Hailey received his doctorate in music education in 2005. He then spent seven years developing steelbands and relationships with various schools in and around Hampton Roads, Va. Wanting more for the community, Hailey decided it was time to create a professional-level, non-profit steelband organization called, Mosaic Steel Orchestra, using the best and brightest students he had helped develop.
“I took out a second mortgage on my home to fund the business. My work the previous seven years had established my reputation for developing successful steel bands throughout the area so it was not very difficult getting good advice, securing an initial part-time location, landing initial contracts with a Title 1 School, organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, and being awarded grant funding,” Hailey said. “My initial goal was to establish a service organization utilizing steelpan that reached the underserved populations and catered to their specific needs. Now, in addition to our youth out-of-school time programs, we have classes for adults, senior citizens, and homeschooled children.”
In addition to establishing classes under the banner of Mosaic, Hailey was hired by the Virginia Arts Festival and took the opportunity to push the idea for an outdoor event. The event he promoted and eventually founded was called the PANorama Caribbean Music Fest.
“It was around 2003 when I was working for the organization that hosts the festival. At the time, I was teaching their steelpan ensembles at four locations each in a different city (Hampton, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach) and at each spot the children would go on about how they were better than the children in the next city. So, I had been thinking they all need place where they can exhibit their skills and see others,” Hailey said. “There are a lot of bands out there that think they are the best and many of them may not really sound good at all outside their community. I pitched the idea of a pan festival to address this situation and confidently guaranteed at least 10 bands the first year (we already had four). They went for it and I went to work running it for the first five years.”
Eventually, the PANorama Caribbean Music Fest would dissolve and give way to a different event, the Virginia International PANFest, run by Dave Longfellow, who runs several steelband groups of his own, including the Rhythm Project All-stars, a competing group with Mosaic.
In addition to Mosaic Steel Orchestra, Hailey also teaches percussion and music courses at Tidewater Community College. But compared to taking the risk of starting a non-profit organization like Mosaic, teaching at a community college is a no-brainer for Hailey.
“Mosaic Steel Orchestra is a 501c3 non-profit. One of the most difficult things was shelling out $500 for the 501c3 application not knowing if I would be approved. But seriously, I tell everyone that it is easy to start something but the challenge is in keeping it going. That’s where passion becomes necessary,” Hailey said. “I was fortunate enough to have financial resources, a firm background in pan and a professional set of skills. However, the main challenges are money, acquiring instruments, getting a location, recruiting students, finding a tuner and gaining access to new arrangements.”
While some members followed Hailey from a former program in 2007, finding new members for Mosaic was done through the formation of a junior group, which would then feed into the main group, known as the stage side group. The junior band feeds three to four players per year into Mosaic’s stage side band. “Occasionally we get an experienced walk-on from one of the several school steelpan programs in local school districts,” Hailey added.
Spreading The Word
In 2015, Mosaic traveled to Trinidad to perform in the International Conference and Panorama (ICP Secretariat), where Hailey made a connection with the captain of Cordettes Steel Orchestra, a mainstay steelband in the annual Panorama competition in Port of Spain, Trinidad. That connection would land Hailey the honor of arranging for the Cordettes for the 2017 Panorama competition.
“Anyone that wants to play can contact me for information and music. Currently we are considering housing. Sangre Grande is out in the country, so it’s not easy to get anything close,” Hailey said. “Players from other countries should first seek to play with a band that has sheet music available so that music may be learned prior to reaching Trinidad. International players should also book travel and lodging and find out about either personal driver for hire or other transportation.”
While steelpan has its challenges in Trinidad & Tobago, Panorama is still popular and loved by pannists in both T&T and around the globe. Getting steelpan to reach that level of popularity in the U.S. requires a different approach, according to Hailey.
“In the U.S., there is a challenge with respecting (teaching) the culture of the instrument while assimilating it into the various cultures across the United States,” Hailey said. “When it comes to pan, my personal and professional line is almost non-existent. For a long time it has been a goal to arrange in T&T Panorama. I also dream of a professional touring career as a performer. Some colleagues and I are working on a broad steelpan initiative with the U.S. Embassy. My overall goal or mission is the proliferation of pan.”
To learn more about Mosaic Steel Orchestra, visit: http://www.mosaicsteelorchestra.org
Video: Mosaic Steel Orchestra performs “Pan In A Rage” at the 2015 ICP Secretariat.