A group of 11 young musicians from St. Thomas, the The EBO Steel Owls steel pan orchestra, captured gold and received highest honors from judges at the WorldStrides OnStage Music Festival, held Friday through Sunday in Washington, D.C.
The group of students from E. Benjamin Oliver Elementary School and Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, were the youngest performers in this year’s competition, competing against high school music groups from around the country, according to a news release from the V.I. Department of Education.
Saturday the Steel Owls performed a variety of classical tunes as well as a medley of songs. They won gold in the percussion category, and took the Adjudicator Award, awarded the group with the highest overall scores from the judges. Each member of the Steel Owls also received the Maestro’s Award – traditionally given to a solo performer – because of their performance skills.
According to Shaneè King, EBO fifth grade teacher and Steel Owls director, the students were judged on the repertoire of music played, level of difficulty, dynamics, sound and overall performance. The students so impressed the judges and the audience that they became the first group in the 25-year history of the competition to be asked to give an encore.
“The judges were amazed,” King said. “The judges said that for the first time in 25 years, an audience asked for an encore performance. This was also the first time that a judge came on stage and gave a constructive critique of a group’s performance. The students definitely put the Virgin Islands on the map.”
King said the students had been playing together for the last two years. As part of their training leading up to WorldStrides, they performed at various school and community events.
“Within the last year and a half, I’ve seen the students’ potential, growth and most importantly, I’ve seen their dedication,” she said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to go away and compete.”
“The students did an amazing job,” she added. “Their songs were on point and they executed everything I expected them to do and more.”
Chris Rommis, Jr., a tenor pan player with the Steel Owls, said, “The WorldStrides Competition was a good experience. I was nervous, but we got it done.”
Rommis said the group also enjoyed other activities in Washington, D.C., such as visiting the Medieval Times restaurant, African American History Museum, and the Jefferson, Lincoln and Martin Luther King memorials.
Fifth grader V’kesha Adams enjoyed the experience.
“The weather was very cold, but we bore it; the experience was great. I was nervous, but we made it through and we won first prize.”
Ali Marks, 6th grader on the double second pan, said, “I enjoyed the experience and hope we can do it again.”
Celina Rodney said she was proud to represent the Virgin Islands in the nation’s capital.
“At WorldStrides, there was Lincoln Park High School, Rockridge High School and East Brunswick High School,” she said. “We won in our category and I feel good that we won. We saw our leader, Ms. King, and Mr. Simmonds, cheering for us. She was very happy for us and I was happy as well.”
St. Thomas-St. John Superintendent Dionne Wells-Hedrington was one of several parents and teachers that chaperoned the group. She expressed her pride at the students’ history-making performance.
“I’m humbled to have been given the opportunity to travel with the students,” she began, “It was truly a remarkable experience. They are very talented, smart and well-behaved. What I really liked is that they worked as a family and as a team. They have great respect for Ms. King, and I have to commend Ms. King for her dedication, diligence and patience with the children. The responses from professors, who were judges, were phenomenal. The structure and parental involvement also lends to the success of the band. There are some things we have discussed to help the band flourish even more, and we are going to make it happen because it is something positive for the students.”