Steel Drums and Chicago Jazz: Carnegie PlayUSA Convening

This past November, ZUMIX vocal instructor Brandon Allen, director of the Voces ensemble, flew to Chicago to join a group of music educators from around the country. ZUMIX is one of 22 organizations to receive grant funding this year from Carnegie Hall’s PlayUSA program, and instructors from partner organizations convened in Chicago for two days of workshops, observation and networking.

The group visited the West Point School of Music, which offers in-school and after-school programs in music (similar to ZUMIX’s programs) for Chicago youth from underserved communities. They also teach instrument repair skills and steel drum manufacturing, giving students marketable skills and a glimpse of several potential career paths. Allen and his fellow attendees had a chance to try out the steel drums, observe student rehearsals, and meet with school founder and president Julian Champion.

“It was really inspiring,” Allen said of his time at West Point. “Super fun to try out the instruments, but also really cool to see a different program—hundreds of miles from ZUMIX—offering programs with some of the same goals we have, to empower young people.”

The instructors also visited VanderCook College of Music, which hosts the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s Jazz Academy program for young musicians. The Saturday program combines jazz and classical forms and teaches theory, technique and creativity, while preparing students for performances throughout the year.

“It was really cool to watch the students learning,” Allen said. “They get to learn from and also perform with professional musicians. It’s amazing to see other programs giving students opportunities and avenues for success, the same way we try to do here at ZUMIX.”

Learn more about PlayUSA and view a list of partners on their website.