The Love City Pan Dragons are gearing up for another exciting year of performances, and, attention St. John youth: they want you to join them. The Pan Dragons provides an opportunity for the island’s children to learn the history of steel pan, build self esteem by performing in front of live crowds and, of course, stay out of trouble.
“The program is designed to prevent dropouts, pregnancy, alcohol and drug use, to encourage kids to stay in school and to promote conflict resolution in a supervised program,” said Ira Wade, one of the original organizers of the youth steel pan orchestra and the father of a Love City Pan Dragon himself. “Playing in front of public audiences helps the kids develop self esteem and poise, and they learn to focus and concentrate. They also develop teamwork skills, and some of the older kids have leadership roles.”
The youth steel pan orchestra is open to all school-aged children on St. John. There are currently 20 members, with room for at least 20 more, according to Wade. The Pan Dragons perform at a slew of territorial events, including the recent Ag Fair on St. Croix. They also perform at Panorama, Miracle on Main Street and the children’s parade on St. Thomas, and at several events right at home including the St. John Festival’s July 4 parade, the governor’s Christmas party and Earth Day, Martin Luther King Day and Kwanzaa celebrations. The group performs at numerous other events throughout the year by request, Wade explained.
“We encourage them to go out and perform and not expect to be paid,” said Wade. “It teaches them to give something back to the community.”
The group has been through several metamorphoses since its inception 14 years ago. The youth steel orchestra was founded in 1994 and originally called the St. John Euphonics Steel Orchestra.
Two years later, the name changed to the St. John Ghost Riders Youth Steel Orchestra after the group’s adopted theme song — “Ghost Riders in The Sky” from an old Clint Eastwood movie, explained Wade. After some parents objected, the name changed again two years later to the Love City Pan Dragons.
Developing Self Confidence
“The children and some of the Department of Public Works employees were playing with some computer graphics,” said Wade, the St. John DPW deputy director. “They found a dragon and put a pan under it, and they became the Pan Dragons.”
The program has proven so beneficial to Wade’s daughter that he’s singing the Pan Dragons’ praises, he explained.
“It keeps her out of trouble and keeps her focused,” said Wade. “It occupies her time and keeps her away from video games all the time. It’s also really helped her develop some self confidence; she was pretty shy, but she’s not that shy person anymore.”
The Love City Pan Dragons meet Fridays at 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. at the pan room behind the Housing, Parks and Recreation building in Cruz Bay. All school-aged children are invited to join, and parents are welcome to come check out the program as well. For more information, call 776-6346 and ask for Wade or Miss O’Neil, or call Elaine Penn at 693-8807.