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Jr. High Steelband In Talent Finals
steel band
Members of the Oakdale Junior High School Steelband pose in front of their steel pans in downtown Modesto where they became finalists in the Gallo Center for the Arts Valleys Got Talent 2013 competition. In random order, members are Hailey Brown, Liz White, Lacie Blount, Sophie Jones, Jenni Shaefle, Sarah Hammoudi, and Ryan Hodge. Not pictured: Meghan Caron and music director Ross McGinnis. - photo by Photo Contributed

Oakdale’s got talent. In fact, a bit of the island calypso sound performed by young Oakdale musicians will soon be featured on the Gallo Center for the Arts stage.

The Oakdale Junior High School Advanced Steelband, led by Oakdale School District Music Director Ross McGinnis, were recently notified that they’ve been selected as finalists for the Gallo Center for the Arts’ fourth annual “Valley’s Got Talent” show. The audience gets to vote on their favorite performers, so local support for the steelband is wanted.
“The kids played well and handled the experience with grace and their parents were awesome, too, as they were our roadies as well,” McGinnis said.

Steelband is a collection of musicians who play what many people know as steel drums, or steelpans, where the instruments are literally made from 55 gallon steel drums. There are a number of different steelpans that make up the steelband.

The Gallo Center for the Arts received 127 applications and of those, 78 entries were selected to audition. The OJHS Advanced Steelband members made it to the next level and were included in the final group chosen to perform at the “Valley’s Got Talent” competition that takes place at the end of August. The steelband members were all eighth graders at the time of auditions. They are Hailey Brown on tenor pan, Liz White on tenor pan, Lacie Blount on double tenor, Sophie Jones on double seconds, Jenni Shaefle on double seconds, Meghan Caron on triple cello, Sarah Hammoudi on six bass, Ryan Hodge on percussion, and music director Ross McGinnis on the drum set.

“The experience had the potential of being quite intimidating. We were on a huge stage looking into a vast array of empty seats except for the seven judges and a few of the kids’ parents,” McGinnis said. “This particular group of students has played at least a dozen performances outside of the rehearsal room…and at least 20 more counting concert band, music camps, honor bands, studio recitals, and a CIF field show. All that made this moment not so wrenching.”
McGinnis explained how the OJHS Advanced Steelband decided to give the Valley’s Got Talent competition a shot. He said that Alida McKeon, a sophomore Oakdale High School band student, suggested they give it a try. McKeon was a finalist in the “Talent” competition last year with her band “Television Skies.”

“She spoke of it being a great experience, so I asked the OJHS kids if they were game and they all said, ‘Let’s go for it,’” McGinnis recalled. “After school was out we rehearsed a medley of three tunes, ‘Staying Alive,’ ‘Take on Me’ and ‘Dynamite.’ This spans four decades of life for the audience and they are all fun tunes to play.”

He went on to give the details about the audition at the Gallo Center, which almost went sideways.
“Our logistics are fairly complicated as there are nine of us and we take up about 20 square feet,” he described. “So we waited on the loading dock with everything prepped to go then realized we forgot two steel drum stands. These stands are quite specific and we had no way of… rigging something makeshift for the audition.”

A sister of one of the band members was on her way to the Gallo Center from Oakdale with some drum stands, but even making great time, she wasn’t going to make it before the steelband started playing.

The steelband members had to get creative to come up with something for the stands. They’d asked if there were any 2x4s, duct tape and bailing wire lying around the stage area. There wasn’t, but McGinnis said the stage manager realized they needed some help and offered to hold the two drums for the audition.

“There were two guys holding the drums, one for each drum that was missing a stand...We called them ‘man stands,’” McGinnis said. “This is how we played through the audition. I’m extremely proud of this group as they went in and got set up with more efficiency than most professionals. Yes, they may have been nervous but it didn’t show. They were all business and were set up in two minutes. They looked back and gave me the nod, I counted off the tune and five minutes later we were done and everyone was smiling and walking on air.”

The OJHS Advanced Steelband will be involved in a publicity photo session and orientation meeting for all performers this month. They will take individual headshot photos and a large group photo with all of the finalists. They will also be able to purchase the publicity photos from Studio Warner for their personal use.

The “Talent” finalists will be featured on Gallo Center websites, Facebook pages, in the performance programs, the production script, press releases, and other places. They’ve also been asked to promote themselves on their own Facebook pages, websites, and other social media.

The Valley’s Got Talent competitors will perform on the stage of the Mary Stuart Rogers Theater at the Gallo Center for the Arts. The judges this year include Hollywood casting director Robert Ulrich, performer Blake Jenner from Glee and The Glee Project, Eric Johnston, the President of The Modesto Bee, Britta Foster, the Chairwoman of the Gallo Center for the Arts, and many more.

The finalists will perform in two shows for the public at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 30-31. The Gallo Center website states that audience voting will take place during the Friday show and the winners will be announced following the Saturday performance. Cash prizes are awarded for the Grand Prize winner, and also to competitors in vocal, dance, instrumental, band and specialty categories, as well as a scholarship award for a classical vocalist or musician.

Tickets for the shows are already on sale, purchasing tickets at the earliest opportunity is highly recommended. Ticket prices range from $10 to $25. The Center expects that both shows will sell out. Tickets are available at the Center’s box office, by phone at (209) 338-2100, or online at and click on the “community” link under upcoming events.