A return to the stage for Piano Slam 14, with poetry, pianos, and more.

Written By Taima Hervas
May 10, 2022 at 4:22 PM

Piano Slam 2022 Dress Rehearsal. Image courtesy Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation

PianoSlam 2022 returned spectacularly to the Knight Concert Hall stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center on April 21st to great applause, whoops, hollers and a long standing ovation. Enthusiastically sharing center stage with the 15 best Miami Dade County Public School student poets, virtuoso Cuban pianists the Alonso Brothers, Miami born, Juilliard trained Choreographer Gentry George with his Zest Collective dance troupe, plus Miami’s homegrown, Ultra Music Festival sensation, AfroBeta, all exploded onto the stage for a transformative celebration of music, poetry and dance.

Piano Slam 2022, Zest Collective Dancer Deja Darbonne, Pianists Orlay and Orlando Alonso – The Alonso Brothers and AfroBeta Synth Dance Band, Cuci Amador and Tony “Smurfio”. Image courtesy Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation

The performance opened with the poets rhythmically strolling onto the stage, dancing with the Zest performers to “Wonderful” by Burna Boy, and settling cozily into their campfire ring of friendship. Music Director and Composer Martin Berejano’s composition, Fantasia de Tres Mundos was the central theme for Piano Slam 2022, inspiring the youth poets to write about this year’s three themes: “My Music. My Humanness. My Home.” Orlay and Orlando Alonso performed Fantasia de Tres Mundos in different interludes, quietly building and expanding, this composition melodiously reflecting influences of great diversity and beauty.

Berejano, who performs internationally and heads the jazz piano department at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, commented, “I’m thrilled to have my composition Fantasia de Tres Mundos as the featured piece for Piano Slam. It means Fantasy of Three Worlds, and it musically reflects the three most important musical influences in my life, jazz, classical and afro cuban, and all of the musical influences I gained growing up here in Miami.”

An hour and a bit later, after a vibrant non-stop, first-class show of music and dance, featuring and mixing up classical, african heritage, cuban, caribbean, jazz, and hip hop music, while always returning to the spoken word performances, the high energy production came to a rousing end. The professional artists gave their best and graciously shined the light of their talents on the profoundly honest, emotive poetic writer-performers. Closing the show, four poets were honored above the rest for their excellence, based on three weeks of rehearsals, movement workshops, coaching sessions and their final performance on this big night.


Piano Slam 2022, The Alonso Brothers, Orlay and Orlando, performing “Fastasia de Tres Mundos.” Image courtesy Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation

The two middle school and two high school poet finalists were awarded $1000 in the categories of English Language Arts and Science. Middle School ELA First Prize Winner was Rodrigo Marquez, a 6th Grader from South Miami Middle School who was the first poet to perform, enthusiastically jumping into place, front and center stage for his “Stories are Music.” Rodrigo filled the Hall with his opening words in celebration of his love of music:

Everyone has a story deep inside their soul
A story to tell, a story to show.
I sit next to a piano and close my eyes.

And suddenly music and stories intertwine
Inspiration comes like a cool summer breeze
And a soothing melody enchants my ears…

Esteban Mosquera, 7th Grader, and the first semifinalist ever from Everglades K-8 Center won in Science for “Under the Northern Tree,” an ode to nature and mankind, including this stanza:

Brown or Black or Gray or White wood
Showing a unique shine, which may be misunderstood
Smooth or Rough or Weird texture like a stone
Reading its reputation, mood, and tone

One high school had a banner year and walked away with two winners, Amena Hobbs for ELA and Nailah Robinson in Science and both from Miami Norland High School, whose classmates and creative writing teacher, Dr. Precious Symonette, were in the audience cheering the loudest and happily bringing down the house.

Nailah Robinson, walking onto stage to Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up,” with arm and fist raised, powerful, was ready to surprise, as her poem began softly, quietly filling the listening silence in the Hall:

“How much more will it hold?
It could be a single droplet away from spilling water
Or two, or three
Maybe it’s already at its limit

Waiting for the right moment to overflow
Will its last moments be graceful?
Similar to the tranquility of the morning dew

Slowly trailing down a leaf breaking the
Surface tension
Or will it give way due to pressure
Like a dam bursting at the seams

“We are nothing without it”
“Everything depends on it’
The gilded truth with a hidden underlying risk…

As Nialah speaks her poem, four of her Piano Slam friends are with her on stage, raising and lowering thin sheets of flowing blue fabric, creating the effects of water and movement, giving life to the water droplet, carrying its message for the future.

Amena Hobbs, shared the stage with Niahal for a companionable time, both poets framing the dancers and pianists with their tall, confidently proud presence, and enjoying with the audience a lovely dance and piano performance. In the quiet afterwards, Amena, a stunning, young, black statuesque poet, in a bright orange top, stunned the audience as she opened her spoken word poem saying,

A harmony that sings pure and true
Pretty in a privileged world
Others find an affinity for the aria I offer
Quiet but still prone to querulousness
Content in the chorus of chords laid out for me

However is that my truth to live?
My lips are as plump as the words I speak
Belting out trials and tribulations that brand themselves on my heart
Words holding power and weight to them –
Sharp as sharps that change the tune
Of how I see myself
If this key were to ever to be recklessly played
It could alter the dynamic of my life’s course
Just for being spoken in an informal forte
This Cantata of melancholy is only my responsibility to speak…

Amena brilliantly finished her poem with these two final stanzas:

With emotions out in the open too raw to ignore
Closing a coda of doubt and delusions
No longer fiddling with the fact that is now secured

I deplore the notion of my formet reality
My reality is no longer shattered
I am Black in harmony
That is my reality.

Moving the show from this poignant and powerful moment, Zest Collective proved yet again to be up to the challenge through their sublime dancing and kind friendship expressed towards the youth poets. From the beginning to the end of show, multitalented dancers Eleni Gialas, Deja Darbonne, Diana Figueroa, Maryann Arnita Benjamin, Kiera O’Rourke combined ballet, AfroCaribbean, modern and hip hop dance moves effortlessly electrifying the audience.

Image courtesy Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation

Throughout the evening the audience was also treated to the incredible talent of the electro-funk duo AfroBeta. Tony “Smurfio” brought his pigeon, added heart beats to the rhythm of Piano Slam, presented AfroBeta original music, and put a special spin to such artists as Flo Rida, Demi Lovato, Celia Cruz, Bad Bunny and Camilla Cabello. At one point, Orlay and Orlando began a two piano performance of Fantasia de Tres Mundos, which Smurfio then segued into a mashup of Old Time Road by Lil Naz X, and the Alonso Brothers continued playing alongside Smufio’s mix of Lil Naz X, all seamlessly. This complex and challenging musical transition and combining of genres was yet another demonstration of the tremendous talent assembled on the stage.

The second half of AfroBeta, lyricist/vocalist Cuci Amador, gave a fabulous performance, and added a fashionista touch to the evening. She brought fun, warmth and charm to the stage with her dynamic voice and Cuban-Miami style. ‘Rio Miami’ sung by Amador will stay in mind as PianoSlam’s 2022 theme pop song, alongside the masterly composed and performed Fantasia de Tres Mundos, forever combining in the audience’s memory the subtle work of an incredible Music Director in Martin Bejerano.

The show combined the best of local Miami talent and internationally acclaimed professionals, all giving their best to this collaboration, and all embracing multiple ethnic heritages, artistic talents and a myriad of meanings to the concept of humanness – a true showcase of the mix up/mashup that is Miami.

Piano Slam 2020, Nailah Robinson, 11th Grade, Miami Norland Senior High School announced on stage as the Piano Slam Finalist for High School Science Poem for her poem, “How Much Longer Will it Hold?”. Image courtesy Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation

Carlene Sawyers, Founder and Executive Director of Piano Slam, was thrilled with the performance and the enthusiastic audience reaction, deeply feeling the shared joy and connection between the professional artists and students performing live on stage again after the pandemic hiatus. “It was like coming out of a dark, cloudy storm into the radiance of sunshine again,” said Sawyer, “the most striking thing about Piano Slam 2022, was the before and after feeling. Emerging from such a challenging, difficult time, we began in August with virtual programming for teachers and coaches, then later in-person training in schools and finally all together at iTech @ Edison for two weeks of on stage rehearsals with poets, coaches, the director, choreographer, pianists, dancers and even a film crew. What we saw reflected in the student poems was how tough, sad and limiting the pandemic had truly been, yet their words contrasted with the joy and awe of working collaboratively with such acclaimed artists, who were feeling exactly the same way.”

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Dr Jose L Dotres, when introduced on stage to a cheering audience before the performance said, “I celebrate the incredible talent of our students and I want to thank an incredible partnership which brings so much to our students – a night of poetry celebrating 14 years and over 75,000 students participating. What is really incredible is that Piano Slam incorporates poetry and music and elevates the core subject areas of language arts, science and math. I want to thank the coaches and individuals who really work with students to give their best, their artistry, thinking, imagination. This is my first experience and I am so honored to be here. Enjoy this evening of poetry and music”

Impressively, four thousand educators and administrators and over 100 schools participate in Piano Slam. Thousands of student poems are turned in to be read by dozens of experts, and finally to be juried by three professional poets to select four winners who each receive $1000. This year’s Final Round Jurors were Jonathan Kelly, Jonathan Rose, and Mecca aka Grimo. The semi-finalists participate in three weeks of after school rehearsals, working one-on-one and in small groups with poetry performance coaches. This year’s four principal coaches were poet John “Chance’ Acevedo, educator Miriam King plus poet Marnino Toussaint and high school senior Ayeisha Kirkland, a past Piano Slam winner. Piano Slam offers ongoing educational and work opportunities to semifinalists to perform, intern, participate in the educational videos, virtual and in school programming and to continue collaborating beyond high school into university and beyond.

Piano Slam is a uniquely impactful program culminating each year in an accomplished, bedazzling stage performance which has evolved to meet the times over its 15 year history. First, by design, it uses every student’s connection and love of music to develop creative writing skills and forge pathways to success. This never changes. The program aims to help ignite a student’s passion for learning by first engaging with teachers, providing dynamic professional development opportunities in classical music, poetry, music and science for which teachers receive continuing education credit from the State of Florida.

To learn more about Piano Slam and Dranoff Two Piano Foundation, visit

PIANO SLAM 2022 Finalists – Best of Show
Middle School English: Rodrigo Marquez, 6th Grade, South Miami MS

High School English: Amena Hobbs, 10th Grade, Miami Norland SHS

Middle School Science: Esteban Mosquera, 7th Grade, Everglades K-8 Center

High School Science: Nailah Robinson, 11th Grade, Miami Norland SHS

PIANO SLAM 2022 Semifinalists
Middle School
Oliver Angulo, 8th Grade, Ponce de Leon MS

Walter Arias, 8th Grade, Shenandoah MS

Briana Augsten, 6th Grade, G.W. Carver MSSarah Bass, 6th Grade, Miami Arts Charter

​Telisa Gaviria, 6th Grade, Lawton Chiles MS

​Trinity Jackson, 8th Grade, Horace Mann MS

​Juliana Moore, 6th Grade, Ponce de Leon MS

​Victor Schein, 8th Grade, Southwood MS

High School
Justin Fayad, 9th Grade, Miami Arts Charter

Maria Fernanda Serra, Almeida Leite, 12th Grade, Design & Architecture Senior High

Abel Profeta, 10th Grade, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High

Camila Puche, 9th Grade, Miami Arts Charter

Alejandra Torruellas, 11th Grade, Coral Gables SHS

Next up for The Dranoff International 2 Piano Foundation
The Dranoff Foundation Presents “Music of Cuban Independence” with Martin Bejerano, Tal Cohen, Ignacio Berroa, Jose Armando Gola. Friday, May 20, 2022 at 8:00 pm at Miami Dade County Auditorium Black Box Theater 2901 W. Flagler Street. Miami $50 VIP Seating w/ Reception; $35 General Admission. Tickets available at is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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