Things to Do in Miami: Piano Slam at the Adrienne Arsht Center April 19, 2023 | Miami New Times


Piano Slam Gives Space to Young Voices

Students from across Miami-Dade County will perform original poetry while paired with professional writers and musicians.
Piano Slam is a competition and showcase of students performing poetry paired with professional performance artists.
Piano Slam is a competition and showcase of students performing poetry paired with professional performance artists. Photo by Cristian Lazzari
Share this:
It's an eco-political reality as inescapable as heat in August. As we continue to barrel deeper toward environmental destruction in the pursuit of industry, the future of our planet becomes a heavier burden resting on the shoulders of tomorrow's leaders. One local foundation helps Miami middle- and high-school students gain the tools to communicate these important issues in a universally understood format: music.

The Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation presents Piano Slam, a competition and showcase of students performing poetry paired with professional performance artists, on April 19 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

In its 15th year of closely partnering with local students and teachers, Piano Slam invites students from Miami-Dade County schools to submit their writing based on a prompt. This year's theme, "Chiaroscuro: the Unevenness of Light and Shade," challenges students to consider their favorite music, extreme heat, and the palpable effects of climate change when creating original poetry.

Herby Exume, a senior at Miami Norland Senior High, drew on his experiences as a musician in the band program while working on his poem throughout the 2022-23 school year.

"I started to notice how I could use my musical experiences with being in band to help me to write my poem," he says. "My idea was how different temperatures affect the way we feel about music and how the heat affects the way people experience life in Miami. The story I was trying to create was the duality of Miami Gardens. Miami Gardens has good and bad sides, and I wanted to relay this message in the poem."
click to enlarge
More than 1,000 Miami-Dade County students submitted writing to Piano Slam.
Photo by Cristian Lazzari
Carlene Sawyer, Piano Slam creator and producer and the executive director of the Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation, says her work aims to bridge the divide between young music fans and professional performance artists, lending students the skills and language to realize their visions.

"We not only bring professional musicians, artists, and teaching artists into the schools — we work with students through music to establish a personal creative process," she says. "This is an appreciation model of learning that expands students' vocabulary and improves their communication, specifically writing skills."

Sawyer says her team received submissions from 1,000 Miami-Dade County students this year, from which 16 semifinalists were chosen to perform their work live at the Arsht Center. On April 19, students from Miami Gardens, West Miami, Homestead, Hialeah, and Liberty City will compete to win four $1,000 prizes.

"We want students to think of themselves as professional artists, to know that they've accomplished something beyond what they thought they were capable of, and to continue to succeed," she says. "We want students to feel secure in a sense of belonging to the culture of Miami-Dade, and we hope they will keep participating in public arts events."

The students will be paired with professional artists, including writer and performance artist Arsimmer McCoy, dance-pop band Afrobeta, and the classical pianist pair Duo Spektra, who will rehearse alongside the students leading up to the performance.

"The students will have mentors and coaches that will guide them individually and in group through delivering their poems, as well as in movement and how to react to the music," says Inesa Gegprifti, who performs as Duo Spektra with Redi Llupa. "Then, we will work through the entire show together in rehearsals. A lot of artistic elements go into the preparation. It's a huge team effort."
click to enlarge
Students will perform original poetry that explores their experiences with extreme heat and climate change.
Photo by Cristian Lazzari
Luciana Callegari, a senior at Coral Gables Senior High, was inspired to write what she describes as a "personal narrative of depression through song" when she received music that Duo Spektra chose to accompany the semifinalists, John Corigliano's "Chiaroscuro" for two pianos, one detuned, which Gegprifti says "creates an eerie, almost hallucinatory, sound experience." Callegari says the support she received throughout her creative process has proven invaluable.

"I've felt very inspired and supported throughout the process of working with a coach who is also a poet and receiving perspective and guidance from someone like-minded," she says.

Callegari says it's the realization of her dreams to perform her original poetry on a professional stage for live audiences.

"It's insane to imagine myself performing poetry, which I care for so fondly, on such a big stage with my friends and family in the audience to support me. I hope that the performance provides a thought-provoking experience for the audience, not only in regard to the themes of each poem but to the artists who created them. I want attention to be drawn to the artistic potential that lies within young people and what can be possible when it's encouraged," she says. "Opportunities to perform live are important to validating young people as artists and encouraging them to continue honing their art."

Exume says Piano Slam has the potential to positively impact the hearts and minds of its audiences, proving the transformative power of the arts and the young artists who pour their hearts into their creations.

"After the performance, I hope the audience understands the significance of the way people are living, not only in Miami but everywhere, and how the climate changes the way of life for different people," Exume explains. "I also hope that my fellow performers and I teach the audience that, regardless of where we reside in Miami, we can all come together to share our stories, come together for a common cause, and the arts can be used to help solve some of the world's issues."

Piano Slam. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; Admission is free.
KEEP NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls. Make a one-time donation today for as little as $1.