Leigh Solomon Pugliano grew up playing the steelpan, performing in her first show at age nine and joining her father’s band at 11.
“I was really young when I would stand up on stage at the microphone and teach an adult essentially about this instrument. I like the confidence that I got from that,” she recalls. Ms. Pugliano wanted to make sure she was helping to build the next generation of players and builders, so in 2014 she founded the nonprofit Barrels to Beethoven.
She regularly teaches steelpan workshops to children and adults, often joined by her three daughters. There’s a low barrier to being able to play the steelpan, which is why, Ms. Pugliano believes, it keeps new players, especially children, wanting to learn more.
“I get so much joy from it [steelpan]… I often say this isn’t fair for me to be this happy when I hear or play this instrument, or teach or talk about it… It’s like my hand or a finger. It’s a part of me.”
— Rebecca Droke
Joshua Neiss, center, 6, of Squirrel Hill gets excited during a steelpan workshop led by Leigh Solomon Pugliano in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. “I’ll correlate the lesson with the song so they don’t realize that they are learning more and more and more. But the last song they learn — they couldn’t have done when we first started,” said Ms. Pugliano.
Leigh Solomon Pugliano helps a student learn the notes on the double guitar steelpan during a workshop in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. Each steelpan starts out as a 55-gallon steel barrel and is hammered by hand to create the bowl shape. The depth of the bowl determines which instrument it will be: A lead pan or tenor pan, a double guitar, tenor bass or six bass.
Cecilia Pugliano, 5, shares a moment with her mother Leigh Solomon Pugliano as she teaches a steelpan workshop in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. Ms. Pugliano, who has three daughters, brings them to most workshops. Her eldest Sofia, 13, right, has started helping her teach in the last year.
Duncan Dockstader, 11, of Bloomfield learns to play the six bass during a steelpan workshop in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. Duncan, who plays piano, guitar and electric bass, said it was his first time playing the steelpan. “I like the noise, the ringing it makes.”
Joshua Neiss, 6, of Squirrel Hill gets help learning notes on the lead or tenor pan from Leigh Solomon Pugliano during a steelpan workshop in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. The tenor pan has the most notes of all the steelpan instruments, with 32 notes covering two-and-a-half octaves.
From left, Stella Pugliano, 9, Joshua Neiss, 6, Delayna Flamm, 9, Alejandro Kulick, 11, Nathan Athanas, 8, Sawyer Kinney, 10, and Isa Kulick, 8, wait to enter the classroom for a steelpan recital after a two-day workshop led by Leigh Solomon Pugliano in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016.
Cecilia Pugliano, 5, attempts to conduct as her mother Leigh Solomon Pugliano leads a steelpan workshop in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. Nathan Athanas, left, 8, of North Fayette said playing the steelpan was “hard but fun.”
Sofia Pugliano confers with her mother Leigh Solomon Pugliano as Sofia helps teach the steelpan during a workshop in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. Sofia, who has been playing steelpan for eight to nine years, says “I like that you can play all types of songs on it. Pop, classical…” She’s been helping her mother teach for the last year.
Leigh Solomon Pugliano says good-bye to Joshua Neiss, 6, at the end of a two-day steelpan workshop in East Liberty on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. “Usually I cry, I didn’t cry today, but I swear every time, whether it’s adults or kids, that we go from learning to hold the mallets to all of sudden they’re playing a song, I’m amazed every time,” Ms. Pugliano said after the first day of the workshop.