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Joint concert at EHS will feature 25 steel drums

Aerial view of Kuhlman stadium with water tower in foreground.
Joint concert at EHS will feature 25 steel drums

What began as an international joint concert experience for Edina band students in 1989 has now become a long-lasting global partnership between Edina High School bands, orchestras, and the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Now, 30 members of the Rising Stars group will visit Minnesota exclusively, on a rare tour to the U.S. because of Edina’s unique relationship with them. On Monday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m., the steel drum instrumentalists will perform in a joint concert that will feature more than 25 steel drums. The Rising Stars will share the stage with the Edina Concert Band and Concert Orchestra at Fick Auditorium. This concert is free and open to the public, with donations accepted to help cover travel expenses.

The group will work with EHS band and orchestra students during the school day, instructing them on the art of playing steel drums, which are hand-crafted, chromatically-pitched percussion instruments made from 55-gallon industrial drums. "We are thrilled to share the stage with the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra," said Paul Kile, EHS band director. "Audiences leave energized and dancing to the beat of steel drum music long after the show. These concerts are special treats not to be missed."

The Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra is composed of 150 musicians, ranging in age from 10 to 18. It was started as an experimental summer group in 1981 as a way to keep students out of trouble, in school, and working to receive their diplomas. The project expanded to a year-round program. Members are required to follow a strict code of behavior, commitment to academics, and abstaining from drugs, alcohol or tobacco. The result is an overall graduation rate of over 90%, with many students continuing their education with assistance from the organization's scholarship program. Rising Stars has been recognized in the U.S. Senate's "Catalog of Hope" as one of the best prevention programs in the U.S. and its territories.

The connection between Edina and the group formed when residents Peter and Serene Simon of Simon & Simon Travel began organizing band trips for Edina students in 1981. While looking for a new international experience for EHS students, they made a connection with the Rising Stars through the St. Thomas, USVI, Department of Education. The first joint concert was performed in St. Thomas.

"[Edina] students were mesmerized by the sound – searching around for the synthesizers that did not exist. They were shocked that ‘The Barber of Seville’ could be performed on steel drums!" said Serene Simon. “The common thread these students have is their interest for instrumental music has been a key ingredient for them to immediately bond with their new friends far away from home.”