St. Thomas carnival The Pre-trial Intervention Program
Written by Simeon L. Sandiford
Thursday, 21 July 2011 22:21


The Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra is a non-profit, school dropout prevention program of the Virgin Islands Territorial Court. Presiding Judge Verne A. Hodge conceived this program in 1980, because of his frustration with the confinement of talented youngsters who had gone astray. It was his idea that judges and courts should do more than simply confine youthful offenders by becoming more actively involved in the prevention of juvenile delinquency.

When the court's statistics revealed that 75% of the youthful offenders were school drop-outs. Judge Hodge instituted this steelband program to reduce school dropouts, knowing that young people who are prevented from dropping out of school will most likely avoid engaging in criminal activities. Students between ages 10 and 18 from public, private or parochial schools are eligible for membership, with parental consent. Judge Hodge promises these parents that he and his staff will guide these youngsters to their high school graduation, and assist them in their preparation for post secondary education and training. New members who successfully complete the summer training program replace graduating members every two years. Thus the program rejuvenates itself.

Another unique feature of the program is the utilization of the courtrooms four evenings per week for tutoring of Rising Stars members to assist them in maintaining passing grades, since the rules prohibit members from travelling or performing with the band when their grades are failing. The success of this school-dropout prevention program is evidenced by the fact that the high school graduation rate of its members exceeds 90%. Moreover, this success was confirmed in 1988 when Harvard University and the Ford Foundation rated it nationally in the top 10% of innovative programs during the annual competitive project entitled “Innovations in State and Local Government”. The program is highly regarded and well respected by the Virgin Islands community, and continues to be a positive experience for its members and a national treasure for the people of the Virgin Islands.

Ambassadors of Goodwill

The members of the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra are known as the Ambassadors of Goodwill for the United States Virgin Islands, as they have rendered outstanding performances throughout the Caribbean and the United States, including Queen's Park Savannah in Trinidad and Tobago ; The Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California: Disneyland: Knott's Berry Farm; Washington D.C.; Howard University; Reinhold Center, University of the Virgin Islands; Taiwan, Republic of China; and Tokyo, Japan. They have performed in concert with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra.

This album commemorates the Rising Stars first appearance in Chicago during the summer of 1997 when they will play a well-balanced assortment of musical selections, including classical, reggae, calypso, contemporary, religious and patriotic songs.

A Note from the Producer
First Impressions

I first met John Hodge in February, 1997 at the Panyard of Phase II Pan Groove Steel Orchestra in Trinidad. I was recording that orchestra's 1997 Panorama presentation Misbehave. Someone asked whether I would allow Hodge to listen to my microphone feed via headphones. John was impressed with what he heard and subsequently asked me whether I would come to St. Thomas to record his band. The Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra.

Second Impressions

All arrangements were put in place and on May 10th, 1997,1 arrived in St. Thomas with my portable recording system to work with The Rising Stars fraternity. I was given a tour of their new facility which houses air-conditioned classrooms and a studio as well as administrative offices. The complex serves 120 members of the orchestra, who are all school children between the ages of 10 and 18.

For the first time in my life I saw two-tiered mobile pan racks. The orchestra uses three sets of these, ingeniously coupled together for easy and flexible movement through the streets when being drawn by a truck on Carnival days. The racks are of sound mechanical construction with ladders conveniently placed to allow access to the upper decks. The lower levels house the background pans and some percussion, while the upper decks support the frontline instruments and a drummer. When on the streets, the percussion is amplified and fed via powered loudspeakers driven by deep-cycle marine batteries. These loud speakers are strategically placed on each rack so as to enable all players in the orchestra to be in phase with the rhythm. The entire structures are supported by a number of heavy-duty tyres.

Lasting Impressions

The three racks were arranged in the shape of a horseshoe and microphones were placed near to the open end of the configuration. While the players were rehearsing, I took the opportunity to walk through the band and marvelled at the degree of clarity of sound. I am sure that two-tiered racks offer a neat solution to the problem of absorption of the high frequency components of sound by crowds when steelbands are on the road at carnival time. The instruments were so dispersed that the sound was balanced wherever I stood.

I began the recording session at about 5:00 p.m. and was privileged to listen to seven sets of Panorama-length arrangements each played twice. There were hardly any mistakes as the band was very well rehearsed. However, at around 7:00 p.m. the light began to fade rapidly and I thought that we would have to abandon the session until the next day. To my amazement, the orchestra continued playing one selection after another in total darkness! When asked about their ability to play in the dark. John said, "As part of their training, these children have to learn to play their instruments with their eyes closed!"

© 1997 Simeon L. Sandiford