Our Founder Celebrates 6 Years of Preserving Pan

Today celebrates St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians—the reason that I chose this day 6 years ago to launch the exhibit, Barrels to Beethoven: Celebrating 30 Years of Pan in Pittsburgh, an exhibition recognizing and celebrating my father, Phil Solomon a renown steelpan builder and tuner, teacher, and musician. I didn’t imagine that 6 years later Barrels to Beethoven would be an organization making an impact throughout our region and the steelpan community. All I knew was that I wanted to share my father’s story, recognize his achievements and contributions to the steelpan, and celebrate my family’s immigrant story. 

Music teacher, Hank Monsch with Phil Solomon at the Barrels to Beethoven exhibit opening

Storytelling is essential to preserving Black history and culture. The stories of my people, Guyanese people, are not often told. While researching for the exhibit, I saw a great need to tell and preserve the stories of the Afro-Caribbean people who invented and developed the steelpan instrument– broadening the perspectives of what Black art is and where it comes from.

Phil Solomon displaying his Tenor steelpan in the mid 1960’s in Guyana, South America

Planning the exhibit also encouraged me to explore the impact of the steelpan, music, and performance on my own life. The lessons learned, skills acquired, unique experiences, and the knowledge gained from playing and teaching about the steelpan from a young age was instrumental (pun intended) to my achievements as an adult. I knew that the young people in our community would greatly benefit from the opportunity to learn about and play the steelpan. Additionally, I also recognized the great need to preserve and teach the intricate building and tuning process. Without teaching a new generation of skilled makers, the instrument does not survive. 

Speaking about what the steelpan and my father taught me at Tedx Pittsburgh, 2019

Since our launch, Barrels to Beethoven has conducted educational programs in over a dozen schools and universities. We have conducted 50+ educational workshops and interactive activities, performed for thousands of people in our community, and built an education space in Wilkinsburg.

Recognizing that there was much more to do for the instrument and for our community, we had big plans for 2020, but because of COVID-19, we decided to focus on virtual programming and planning for next year.

In late 2021 we hope to:

  • Launch the Pan Builders Apprenticeship Program; providing both a learning and workforce development opportunity for young adults
  • Expand the Barrels to Beethoven Youth Ensemble and Wilkinsburg Youth Steel Orchestra; providing music education, technique and skill-building, and performance opportunities to young people in our region
  • Re-launch the Barrels to Beethoven Exhibit which includes a virtual platform and incorporating more steelpan history and in-depth learning of the building and tuning process
  • Increase our in-school programs and educational workshops primarily for young people with limited resources and access to the arts 
Barrels to Beethoven Virtual Fall 2020 Showcase

Happy St. Cecilia Day! Support your local musicians, pick up an instrument, listen to your favorite song, and enjoy the music.

-Leigh Solomon Pugliano, Founder of Barrels to Beethoven & proud musician


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