After witnessing the power of steel drums in bringing communities together, Harvey Price wanted to see if the same could hold true in one notoriously divided area of the world — Israel.
So about five years ago, Price founded Peace Drums, an organization in Haifa — a city known for its interfaith coexistence — that aims to connect Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians in fourth- through 11th grades in a steel drum band. In addition to providing opportunities for students from different backgrounds to interact through rehearsing, learning and performing together, Peace Drums encourages serious conversations to bring participants together.
“The [participating] kids and the parents believe in the shared experience of learning and making music together,” said Price, executive director at Peace Drums. “Half of this project is about music education on a serious level, and the other half is about shared experiences with Christians, Muslims and Jews.”
On April 21, The Ardmore Music Hall will host a concert and dinner to benefit Peace Drums. The fundraiser will feature performances by the Trevor Street Band, Delaware Steel and Philly Pan Stars.
This is the second year this fundraiser has taken place. Last year, it took place at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, but the space was too small; this year, the organization rented space at the larger Ardmore facility.
“This second year represents a major expansion, not only in that we’ve moved it to a larger, more prominent venue, but we have about 100 more people coming this year than last year,” said David Kramer, who does marketing for Peace Drums. “This year, we have catered dinner, whereas last year, there were just some buffet foods. Also, this year, there’ll be three live bands playing over the course of the evening. Last year, there was just one band.”
In addition, the fundraiser raised $25,000 last year, while so far, this year’s event has already generated $30,000 in ticket sales. Price said he hopes to raise an additional $30,000 in donations during the event. The money raised will go toward supporting Peace Drums’ efforts, including the teacher’s salary and costs to transport students and instruments to and from Haifa.
Price, an associate professor of music at the University of Delaware who has worked with steel drums for about 20 years, has performed in Israel since the late ’90s. Knowing the role of steel bands in community music-making in Trinidad, and having seen how participants in bands become fast friends, Price wanted to start a steel drum band in the country.
“My thesis, or my theory, was that I could use [steel drums] as a shared experience between Arabs and Jews in Israel,” said Price, who has lived in Philadelphia his entire life and grew up attending Temple Judea.
Over the past five years, Price said, the organization has grown from 20 students to about 70. Some of the older students have been in the band for years — something that Price said separates Peace Drums from other, similar organizations.
The students have grown closer through working together, such as on a tour they took to Vienna in October. In addition, the students have formed friendships and visit one another’s homes for Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays, Price said.
He said that people in the United States are often surprised to hear that his program works with Arab communities in Israel.
“This is a really vibrant program that’s in it for the long haul,” Price said, “and is really working to bridge gaps within Israeli society.”