HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – In today’s Community Chat, WAVY Digital Desk Host Sarah Goode spoke with directors from the Rhythm Project. Watch the full Community Chat in the video player on this page.

The Rhythm Project is a community engagement program with the Virginia Arts Festival. It began in Portsmouth in 1996. Since then, it expanded in Hampton Roads, and now runs in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Portsmouth schools where students are taught Caribbean steel drums.

The program is possible in schools through the Virginia Arts Festival, grants, and school partnerships. Director Dave Longfellow has been in his role since 2014. He says the program enriches students’ lives. It helps with their self-esteem, offers structure, and more.

Director Dave Longfellow, Associate Director Daron Roberts, and Assistant Director Audrey Holden run the Rhythm Project. They teach students from elementary school to high school.


The elementary school program is called “Junior-Stars”. At this age, Associate Director Daron Roberts, says steel pan is easier for children to work with, offers them gratification, and allows them to learn multiple songs throughout the year.

Junior-Stars. Photo courtesy The Virginia Arts Festival.

Longfellow says, in the past few years they have grown the program at the elementary level, and cities like Norfolk have allowed them to enrich the general music program at Title I schools. Some students can take class twice a week.

Learning about the origin of the music is part of the learning from the start. Assistant Director Audrey Holden says, “One of the most important things we do when we bring in the steel pan is the first thing we talk about is where is the instrument from and how is it made.” Holden says children learn about the different rhythms by ear and do not use sheet music.


Middle School is called “Rising-Stars”. During a time students might be figuring themselves out, Associate Director Daron Roberts says he will see students crying, upset, or upset, and he’s seen the shift as soon as they touch the instrument.

Rising-Stars. Photo Courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Roberts says, “This instrument is creating some opportunities for students, especially at the middle school age, where they are trying to figure out, okay when I get to high school what do I want to do, where do I belong in the community.”


The high school program is called “All-Stars”. This program is audition based. It brings students from the Rising-Stars program together.

All-Stars. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Dave Longfellow says it’s exciting for the younger students to see this pipeline, and be able to watch the older students performing. They can look up to the older students, who were once in their shoes, from learning basics in the Junior-Star phase to their strong performances at the All-Stars level.

Virginia International PANfest

The Virginia Arts Festival presents the annual Virginia International PANfest this weekend at the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Visitors can watch different steel drum bands from around the country and locally perform.

Friday, May 12 is a workshop day. Saturday, May 13 will be a competition day at the 24th Street Stage. The Rhythm Project’s All-Stars and some Rising-Stars will compete on Saturday.

Along with the competition, enjoy the opening and headlining performances from Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, Jesse Chong Band, and Jonathan Scales Fourchestra. The event is free and open to the public.

On Saturday, June 3, the Rhythm Project will have its showcase. The Rising-Stars, All-Stars, and Alumni will perform at the Perry Pavilion in Norfolk.

Watch the full conversation in the video player on this page to hear more about the Rhythm Project. For more information about the Rhythm Project and its upcoming schedule, click here.