Portland High School is starting a steel drum band as a way to expand its music program beyond band and chorus and to appeal to a wider group of students, thanks to a $5,500 grant from the Grammy Foundation and  Ford Motor Company.

The school, with about 850 students from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, was one of just 13 nationwide to get a Signature Schools grant, according to a press release from the foundation. The award will be presented to school officials Thursday, after a music career day organized by the foundation. A free public concert by Portland High School musicians will follow.

Jayne Sawtelle, the school’s lone full-time music teacher, said Tuesday the money will be used to buy Trinidad-style steel drums and to help create a steel drum band and percussion ensemble for at least 24 to 30 students. The group will feature Latin, African and Caribbean instruments as a way to diversify the music program and attract students who are interested in more nontraditional types of musical performance, she said. The group also will feature percussion instruments already owned by the school department.

Sawtelle said she’s “looking forward to creating a new identity for PHS” music programs with the new group, as well as attracting new students to music. She hopes the ensemble will perform at school and community events. She plays steel drum herself in a group called The Island Beats, and she is excited to share the skills with students.

“I’m not sure the kids know exactly what they’re in for,” Sawtelle said.

The Grammy Foundation is the philanthropic partner of the Los Angeles-based Recording Academy, which also stages the music industry’s biggest awards show, the Grammys. Portland High School was given the foundation’s Signature Schools Enterprise Award, which recognizes the musical education efforts of schools under tight budget constraints. In written comments sent to Sawtelle, foundation representatives said Portland High School “had very progressive ideas for expanding extracurricular offerings with limited resources.” The grant is administered by the Grammy Foundation and funded by Ford Motor Company.


Sawtelle teaches band, jazz, chorus, music appreciation, piano and guitar, as well as musical theater classes. She thinks a percussion ensemble could be a first step for students to become involved in music, and they may later join the school’s other bands. She said the ensemble will fit well at the school, where musical groups already play songs and music from many different cultures and countries.

Grammy Foundation Executive Education Director David R. Sears will be at the school Thursday. He’ll begin his visit to the school in the morning as part of a Grammy Career Day panel, with Portland-based mastering engineer Adam Ayan. Ayan, who works at Gateway Mastering in Portland, has been involved with the Recording Academy over the years. Many recordings Ayan has worked on have been nominated for Grammys. He also won a Grammy in 2005, in the category of best historical album for “Jelly Roll Morton – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax.”

Ayan says he knows that public school music programs can “get lost in the budget shuffle,” so he was happy to hear about Portland High School’s award. During the career day, he’ll talk to kids about his own experiences in public school music programs in New Hampshire and about the path he took to become a music business professional.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Grammy Foundation award will be formally presented at the school, 284 Cumberland Ave., Portland. The presentation will be followed by a concert by school music groups at 6:45 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public.

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