In 2014, music professor Michael Mizma needed to find a home for steel drums in storage at the San Jacinto College Central Campus Music Department. This quest led to the creation of the community steel band program at San Jac.
"We had these old drums in storage that were used but in great shape," Mizma said. "I couldn't see sending them to auction when I knew there was a great opportunity to share them with the community."
Mizma contacted band directors Rick Brockway at League City and Garrett Sanborne at Park View intermediate schools to ask whether they were interested in borrowing the instruments to start a steel band. Both directors accepted the challenge and created opportunities for their students to get involved.
"It kind of works as a 'pay it forward' system," Mizma said. "The school district education foundations and the San Jac Foundation have been so supportive of our bands. Once one school receives a grant to replace the instruments, we take the used ones and start a new community band."
Eight bands in three school districts have benefited from steel drum program, impacting hundreds of students. One of these students, Serina Guerra, has seen the initiative come full circle.
A freshman at San Jac and a member of the College's steel drum band, Guerra picked up a set of drumsticks for the first time seven years ago as a student at Park View and then at Sam Rayburn High School. She is what Mizma calls a legacy student.
"Serina was a flute player at Park View. She arrived the fall after the community band started and was one of the first students to show a deep interest in steel band," Sanborne said. "She especially loved to play lead pan and worked very hard at it. When I wrote new music, I didn't have to worry because she would master even the most challenging parts."
Through guidance from Mizma and Sanborne, Guerra learned quickly and developed a new passion. At Sam Rayburn, she continued to thrive under the direction of Michael Royer.
"I love playing steel drums because it can be very liberating. I take my stress and frustration and put that into playing," Guerra said. "I was nervous to join the band at San Jac because I hadn't played for about a year, but you can feel the energy of the group, and you just go for it."
Guerra is studying to become a pediatric cognitive behavioral psychologist and looking to transfer to the University of Houston-Clear Lake after San Jac. Though Guerra isn't a music major, she plans never to stop playing.
"In the future, I would like to help build community bands and give other people the same opportunity I was given," she said.
Mizma hopes to expand the program beyond school districts to local organizations, but for now, he's proud of what has been accomplished in the last eight years.
"The way the community bands keep growing and thriving is so fulfilling," he said. "I can't wait to see what the future holds and to see how far we can reach."
The San Jacinto College Steel Drum Band will perform at Miller Outdoor Theatre on Saturday, May 7, at 8:15 p.m. The concert marks the world premiere of "River to the Sea," a six-movement original work by composer C.J. Menge. The free concert will conclude with a mass performance by the College's steel drum band and six of the community bands.