LEAF International | Bequia
Located in Saint Vincent & the Grenadines | Founded March 2006 | 24+ Youth Served
Why Bequia? “How many kids on this island are learning the local steel pan tradition?,” is the question LEAF Founder and Executive Director, Jennifer Pickering, asked to the principal of the local community school in Bequia. The answer, “one, and it is the governor’s daughter.” The following week was spent finding local musicians who were willing to be a teaching artist, and raising funds to get steel pans made in nearby Trinidad. With this, LEAF International was born.
“A country without a culture is a people without an identity, therefore it is important that cultural practices are passed from generation to generation to preserve such.”Kesslon Wilson, LEAF International Bequia
See the Program in Action
LEAF International has partnered with Bequia Community High School to start a unique, music & arts education program that teaches traditional steel pan drumming to children on the island. Called “Kids on Pans,” this program has grown from an introductory class trying to get kids excited about their cultural heritage to an established program with dedicated kids that are becoming professional steel drum musicians.
When the program started in Bequia, only one child on the small island had knowledge of the steel pan tradition. Due to Westernization and the relative expensiveness of the cost and regular tuning of the steel pans, the steel pan tradition was slowly fading out and losing relevance among the upcoming generation. Now, with the help of an inspired and engaged community, over 70 children have participated in the “Kids on Pans” program, resulting in a revival of the vibrant steel pan tradition.
The “Kids on Pans” program has brought both tangible and intangible impacts to individuals and the community at large.
Through the project, students gain:
- Steel Pan drumming skills
- Community performance experience
- Increased self-esteem & confidence
- Cultural awareness & historical knowledge
- Friendship, teamwork, & leadership skills
- Community recognition
Meet a Teaching Artist
Kesslon Wilson, a well known Steel Pan musician and teacher, joined LEAF International | Kids on Pans in 2014 as the new Teaching Artist. Both leading the program forward as well as meeting the growing interest of Bequia youth in Steel Pans, Kesslon is a valuable addition to the Bequia program.
Kesslon first began to learn the steel pan tradition when he was just twelve years old, and has held a passion for music ever since. Inspired by his community’s steel orchestra growing up, Kesslon has proficiently learned every instrument used in a traditional, Caribbean steel orchestra. His passion for music is matched with a passion for kids, as he has been a teacher for the past 28 years, teaching steel pan for the past 12.
In his teaching, Kesslon recognizes the important impact this program can have on these kids, and that while he is teaching the cultural tradition of the steel pan, he is also teaching these youth so much more. In his own words,
“In my teaching sessions I am mindful that failing at one thing doesn’t mean failure at other things. Further, I realize that everyone is born with talent but without dedication to nurturing and improving that talent, that person could never fully realize and utilize their talent. The watchword for improvement in anything is ‘Practice, practice, practice!’ And while it is good to master what you are good at, it is also important to spread your wings and accept other challenges. Finally, giving up is never really the answer to anything that you really want to achieve. People learn differently using different modes and styles. Some will reach before others but once one persevered, all will attain that goal eventually.” –Kesslon Wilson
Meet a Student
Abigail King was only 6 years old when she began learning pan. She now loves the instrument and music so much that before she kneels to pray at night she plays the pan. Abby’s parents bought a pan for Abby with the help of other family members. Her pan skills GREATLY improved as a result! Pans are expensive, and the pan cost $1800 + $25 for the sticks. Pans do not come tuned, so LI Bequia helped Abby to pay for her pan to be tuned. Abby is pictured here at age 7 and again at age 9. We love to watch her grow up through the LEAF International Bequia program!
“Abby is so much more confident after learning pan. It is the only thing she is doing that she really loves. I’m glad to see her fuel her energy into something positive.” -Glynis King (Abby’s Mother)
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“The tradition almost died here. There were no youth interested; now many kids play. It is good for the tradition; it is good for their minds.”
January: 16 kids represented “Kids on Pan” at the annual Bequia Music Festival
January: The annual Bequia Music Fest which took place January 18-21, featured the Kids on Pan on the Sunday evening’s program. Even with a reduced contingent the group performed commendably.
March: Official Cultural Center opening!
July & August: Bequia joins LEAF for the 3rd annual LEAF Downtown and LEAF Arts & Park camp.
Youth from LEAF International Bequia taught a 5-day residency at Hall Fletcher Elementary school. In additon to the residency, the group enjoyed their first time experience of busking in downtown Asheville and a grand finale performance at the Orange Peel.
In August 2015, Bequia’s local government recognizes the cultural importance and success of the LEAF International ‘Kids on Pans’ program, and donates an old school building to LEAF International. With renovations soon underway, the ‘Kids on Pans’ will have their own permanent home, rehearsal space, and cultural center!
In February, the ‘Kids on Pans’ grows tremendously: enrollment doubles from 12 to 24, with 12 more on the waiting list! After a successful fundraising campaign for more instruments and expanding class times, those students on the waitlist are now in ‘Kids on Pans’ classes. Starting at the beginning of 2015, there are 3 classes with 36 students!
Kids on Pans are invited to have a weekly gig at the Bequia Beach Hotel!
Master Steel Pan player Kesslon Wilson becomes the lead Teaching Artist.
Program doubles in size, and there is even a waitlist.
Kids on Pans begin learning from new teacher, Errol. THANK YOU to Elvis for all of the years of amazing pan instruction for the kids!
Kids on Pans performed at October LEAF Festival! Click HERE to see one of their amazing performances on stage!
Kids On Pans play holiday concerts: Da Reef, The Almond Tree, and Bequia Beach Hotel.
See Kids on Pan:
Elvis celebrated his 50th birthday May 28th! His students gave him a surprise party. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ELVIS!!
Kids on Pans held an “Elvis Seales & his Pupils” Pan Concert at De Reef in Lower Bay Bequia. The intent was to engage the community, give the kids more concert performance experience, and raise awareness and funds for the Kids on Pans teaching program.
2010 & 2009
The School Principal received a grant to bring a new program: Pans Against Violence to the island
Students start performing around the island during holidays.
Program started in March 2006 at the Bequia Community High School
Gils Pan Shop: The steel pans were handmade in Trinidad at Gils Pan Shop and shipped by boat to the island.
Panyard, Inc.: Small Jumbie Jams pans were donated to the program by Panyard, Inc.