WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Leigh Solomon Pugliano, and how and when did you first become involved with Pan?”
Leigh S. P. - “I am mother of 3, wife, entrepreneur, musician and educator. I’m originally from Guyana, South America, but have lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the U.S. since 1984. My father, Phil Solomon, is a steelpan builder, tuner, and player so of course I have been around pans my whole life. My sisters and I began playing steelpan very young. I started around the age of 6.”
WST - “The steelpan is now an integral part of your life path. When did you first come to believe that you could both love the Pan and perhaps even make a career out of it?”
Leigh S. P. - “The steelpan has always been an integral part of my life. As a teenager I performed with my father’s band. As a young adult, I taught in schools, gave lessons, conducted lectures and workshops and continued to perform with my father’s band. I am able to play every pan in the steel band family and excelled on the bass and double gitta [guitar]. As I got older and began working full-time, got married and had children, I continued to play professionally, I could not imagine not playing the steelpan.
In 2012 I started my own band Rhythm ‘n’ Steel. After performing with my band for a few years I realized that although I loved to perform I wanted to make a bigger impact with the steelpan. Over the years I noticed that audiences were somewhat misinformed about the instrument and the people who developed it. The history of the steelpan and the highly skilled builders and tuners that have developed the instrument are not being celebrated as they should. In addition, I saw the positive impact the steelpan had on my life as well as the lives of so many others. I wanted to continue to expose young people to the benefits of the instrument. This ideology lead me to launch ‘Barrels to Beethoven,’ a social enterprise dedicated to steelpan preservation, education, and innovation in Pittsburgh.”
WST - “Were there any obstacles along the way, or were you cautioned or perhaps dissuaded from focusing solely on the steelpan instrument as your passion in life?”
Leigh S. P. - “The work I do is difficult, building a business around steelpan education is challenging for many reasons. Being a seasoned entrepreneur has helped; I started my first business at 19 and my second in 2011, so I understand the kind of dedication, business acumen, community engagement, organization and everything it takes to succeed. You have to stay focused on your mission. I love to teach new audiences about the steelpan and provide the opportunity, through ‘Barrels to Beethoven,’ for the community to gain more in-depth knowledge of the instrument.”
Leigh Solomon Pugliano
WST - “Who are your music inspirations and influences - not only relative to Pan, but also in wider music genres?”
Leigh S. P. - “My musical inspirations span many genres. I am inspired by great music and great musicians of all kinds. First and foremost I am inspired by my father, he is an exceptional steelpan player and captivates audiences with his talent and skill every time he plays. Others include, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles and of course, Beethoven.”
WST - “In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges faced by the steelband art form today?”
Leigh S. P. - “I think one of the greatest challenges for the steelpan or steel band art form is developing great steelpan builders. I don’t like when steel bands don’t have quality instruments. As the daughter of a great builder I can hear the difference and want all bands to have quality instruments. This is a huge mission of ‘Barrels to Beethoven.’ I also want to see more black youth, primarily black girls playing pan in America. Another challenge is historical content. There are too many misinformed people who stick to assumptions or share inaccurate information about the steelpan. I am continuously challenged in this area which can be frustrating at times.”
WST - “Do any members of your family play Pan?”
Leigh S. P. - “My sisters play pan, but not professionally. My daughters all play and love the steelpan. Although they’re still young (13, 9 and 5) they are good players and wonderful musicians. It’s a real blessing that I am able to teach the art form to children in my community as well as my own children.”
WST - “Tell us about ‘Barrels to Beethoven.’”
Leigh S. P. - “‘Barrels to Beethoven’ is an organization dedicated to steelpan preservation, education, and innovation. We provide engaging, entertaining, and interactive opportunities for the Pittsburgh community, especially young people, to learn the history of the steelpan, the building and tuning process, music theory, and technique. The mission of the organization is to provide impactful arts education, teach accurate historical and cultural content, and inspire a new generation of steelpan builders, tuners, players, and teachers.”
WST - “Talk about the success of ‘Let’s Play Pan 21+’”
Leigh S. P. - “‘Let’s Play Pan 21+’ is awesome! I’ve always known that part of the love I have for the steelpan comes from being in bands and performing with other musicians. I wanted to provide an opportunity to those who may have always wanted to play an instrument but never did, or wanted to be in a band, or just love music. ‘Let’s Play Pan 21+’ allows adults the chance to learn steelpan technique and play in a band setting. These events have been extremely successful. I love to teach and our ‘Let’s Play Pan 21+’ event allow me to do so in a really unique, yet challenging way.”
Leigh Solomon Pugliano
WST - “Have you or your sisters picked up on your father tuning techniques?”
Leigh S. P. - “I have been studying tuning methodology for the past few years. I’m not there yet, still learning and developing my skills.”
WST - “Do you have any advice for young women now coming into the steelband art form?”
Leigh S. P. - “My advice to young women in pan:
Work hard and practice a lot.
Always present yourself well.
Know about pan. The history is as important as your playing ability. Especially in the U.S., if we don’t ensure that accurate historical content is taught, it will be changed by others over time.
Be innovative, the steelpan is still new. Find ways to do things that haven’t been done before.”
WST - “What is your vision for Pan in Pittsburg?”
Leigh S. P. - “My vision for steelpan in Pittsburgh is that ‘Barrels to Beethoven’ continues to grow and teach the community about the steelpan, building a foundation for information and skills to be taught and shared over time.”
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