RACINE — Racine’s Festival Hall will become an island oasis on Friday, Oct. 6, when steel drummers from near and far fill it with the unmistakably tropical tones of their music, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The steel drum concert scheduled to be presented that evening by Angel Lawrie will feature national guest artists including John Patti — an internationally touring steel pan artist — as well as the local steel band the Steel Doves. And its purpose, in addition to being entertaining, is to share Lawrie’s passion for steel pan drums and the healing effects they can have on at-risk youth.
Lawrie, who has been playing steel drums for more than 30 years, is also an educator, clinician and an advocate for students dealing with autism, emotional challenges, learning differences and ADHD. Before moving to Racine a year ago, she founded and led a school program in Ohio that was successful in using music and performing arts to help such students build their capacity for learning and their confidence.
An inspiring song
Formerly a traditional, middle school band director with a degree in music education, Lawrie said she was inspired to work with at-risk kids by an experience she had with a little girl who didn’t speak at all. Determined to find a way to communicate with the girl, Lawrie said she tried a number of strategies and eventually — after much trial and error and journaling — was able to get the girl to sing a song.
“She sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to me, and then turned to her mom and said ‘I love you’,” Lawrie said. “The three of us started crying. The minute that happened, I knew this was my calling.”
That was about eight years ago, and since then she has worked with people of all ages through her program, Angel Pan Camps (www.facebook.com/AngelPanCamps), at schools, churches and other venues across the country. Her base here in Racine County is a storefront called Harmony Hall, located next to Racine Community Acupuncture, at 10502 Northwestern Ave., in the Franksville neighborhood, where she gives lessons and where the Steel Doves — a 12-piece band ranging in age from 9 to 70 — rehearse.
“The philosophy works,” said Lawrie, who has dealt with ADHD throughout her own life. “It’s not just about learning to play the instrument. It’s about hope and giving attention to kids who might not otherwise get it, and changing their perspective. Anyone, including adults, can benefit from it.”
Experience its magic
While she’s happy to talk about the many benefits of playing steel pan drums, Lawrie said the best way for her to share what she calls the “magic” of this music is to demonstrate it. At her concert on Oct. 6, she hopes to lay the foundation for what she eventually would like to build here in Racine — a massive steel band called the Belle City Steelers.
The band would serve as a fine arts camp where at-risk youth from throughout southeastern Wisconsin could find their voices, develop new confidence and thrive, while learning to play a new instrument.
In order to do so, Lawrie has applied for grant funding and if she gets capacity attendance at Friday’s concert, it will help her secure those grants. As of press time, she said tickets for the concert were almost sold out. Most of those still available can be purchased directly from Lawrie, for $15 each, by calling her at 262-883-7624. A limited number may also still be available through Ticketmaster (search for Angel Pan Camps), for $17.50 each.
The island life
In addition to lots of steel drum music — which Lawrie said encompasses just about every genre, from rock to jazz and blues to reggae — Friday’s event will offer tropically themed drinks and food for sale, as well as an atmosphere designed to transport the audience to the island life. All proceeds from the event will support the expansion of Angel Pan Camps and Lawrie’s work with at-risk youth.
Lawrie, who began playing steel drums while enrolled at the University of Akron and later studied in Trinidad, said she and the rest of Friday’s concert lineup are excited to perform for the audience here. The people of Racine have been incredibly welcoming and supportive, she said, and she is very appreciative of the collaborative relationships she’s found here.
“I love the feeling here,” she said. “Everyone is so real and they all want change, so much.”