Miami’s premier arts venue the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts has been the host site for Piano Slam since day one. Celebrating a decade of Piano Slams is a tremendous feeling of accomplishment for the organization because it allows them to reach an even wider audience.
One of the foundation’s fundamental programs was working with Title I schools in Miami-Dade County and bring performances to those schools, something that really excited the students.
“Because of our work with the schools, we thought it would be great to have the kids be a part of the creative process,” said Carlene Sawyer, executive director of the foundation. “Poetry is the sister art form to music and we started with that idea and teachers loved it. Especially because writing is such a crucial part of a student’s success.”
The first year of Piano Slam saw students from five middle schools writing poetry about the concerts they saw at their schools or even about music in general. Dranoff couldn’t go in and teach music to the kids, but wanted a general audience that was all students and their families.
That’s when Marleine Bastien, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of the Haitian women’s activist group Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, began helping the foundation with outreach to the local community.
By the second year the event grew to 28 middle and high schools, thanks mainly to the teachers spreading the word. The event made kids the authority and it was also a very safe place for the kids.
Scene from last year's Piano Slam (Photo courtesy of Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation)
“After the explosion in year two, we realized we needed to hire a full-time director and the Arsht recommended Teo Castellanos,” said Sawyer. “Dranoff had already recommended Teo, who had worked with Mary Luft of Tigertail Productions, so this truly became a Miami thing.”
Year three through five it grew so huge, the foundation began year-round curriculum development with the schools, always keeping Piano Slam at the Arsht.
In the sixth year the Miami Heat became involved and began reading poetry to the kids. Because however, it was focused entirely on writing, the school district asked that the foundation develop a science track. It was then they partnered with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
“The UM Rosenstiel School loved the idea and began developing all kinds of science and music research, they even started incorporating our music in their presentations,” Sawyer said.
After this, Rosenstiel began busing the students to waterfront sites like Key Biscayne, Vizcaya and Biscayne National Park. They began writing poetry about currents and waterflow, always remember that music is what started it all.
“Scientists and science educators ultimately recognized that Piano Slam has helped these kids develop that language they’re using to write,” Sawyer said.
This year finds Piano Slam with a new director, Tea Alagic, whose work includes directing shows on Broadway and all over the world. Gracing the stage this year will be 16 middle and high school students, along with local DJ Cardi and two pianists from Northern Italy. The youngest participant is 11 years old and hails from Leisure City, FL in South Miami-Dade, who wrote a science based philosophical poem.
The winners went through a competitive two months of judging in December and January. The winners are then chosen by a trio of judges, this year comprised of authors Campbell McGrath, Edwidge Danticat, and Jonathan Rose.
That’s followed by an orientation, writing workshop and movement workshops with local choreographer and founder of Brazzdance Augusto Soledade. Rehearsals last three weeks and then its on to the stage.
“The ultimate goal is to institutionalize this and make it an event that people can’t miss,” said Sawyer.
Piano Slam 10 is Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. The event is free, but tickets are required. http://pianoslam.org/
The next Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation event is American Classical Classics April 5 at Coral Gables Congregational Church, 3010 DeSoto Blvd.