Barrels to Beethoven Celebrates 5 Years!

Today celebrates St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians—the reason Leigh Solomon Pugliano chose this day 5 years ago to launch a Barrels to Beethoven exhibition to celebrate her father, Phil Solomon a renown steelpan builder, tuner, and player. She didn’t imagine that 5 years later it would be an organization making an impact throughout our region and the steelpan community. All she knew was that she had to find a way to share her father’s story, recognize his accomplishments, and celebrate her family’s time in the United States. Leigh grew up playing and teaching about the steelpan with her father. However, it was during her time researching her father’s life and the instrument—in preparation for what was intended to be a one-day event and week-long exhibition—that she began seeing the need to preserve the story of the Afro-Caribbean people who invented and developed the steelpan. Trinidadians and West Indians have been removed from the story and replaced with flower shirts and  lais (don’t get us started on that), the name changed to steel drums, and the perception created that somehow it is Americans who now “own” it. Additionally, the craft needed to be preserved in a high-quality and respectful way. It was on the evening of Barrels to Beethoven that Leigh accepted the powerful revelation that this was the beginning of something: a new purpose and a new mission. 

Since that evening 5 years ago, Barrels to Beethoven has conducted educational programs in over a dozen schools and universities, engaging over a thousand young people. We have conducted 50+ educational workshops and interactive activities, performed for thousands of people in our community, and built an education space in Wilkinsburg. This has led to over a dozen features in local, national, and international media. All of these programs and engagements prioritize the historical context of the steelpan’s development. 

In 2020 we plan to expand our Pillars of Pan (POP) program which we piloted this year. POP expands the programming to include the original vision of Barrels to Beethoven by equipping a class of young people and adults to be competent champions of the steelpan, Afro-Caribbean culture, music, and their community. In the Caribbean, the steelpan is a means of expression, creativity, innovation, competition, celebration, and connection. The steel band movement did not begin as just a way for Afro-Caribbean people to make music, but to also challenge a society and its economically- and culturally-oppressive systems. After the banning of many instrumental art forms and cultural rituals specific to Afro-Caribbean people, the steelpan was developed as a near perfect representation of a colonized but resilient people, using both rhythm and melodic tones to create music. With this, we’ll launch: the Pan Builders Apprenticeship program, expand the Barrels to Beethoven Youth Ensemble, and increase our in-school programs and educational  workshops. In order to do this, we will continue to work with community partners to expand programs and increase the number of people, especially black youth, who learn about the instrument. 

Please consider supporting our Pillars of Pan Fundraising Campaign! Our goal is to raise $15,000 over the next 60 days.

We’ll use these funds to:

  • Expand into a larger education space
  • Pilot the Pan Builders Apprenticeship Program
  • Increase programs in Wilkinsburg and surrounding areas

Here’s how you can help:


A look back…


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