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Virginia All-Steel Orchestra, high school chorus to perform Dec. 15

Ebenezer CME Church, South Boston will host The Virginia All-Steel Orchestra (VASO) on Sunday, Dec. 15, at 3:30 p.m. along with the Halifax County High School Chorus. 

The public is invited to attend this afternoon performance by these two groups.

The Halifax County High School Chorus is directed by The Rev. Andre P. Williamson, pastor of Ebenezer CME Church, and The Virginia All-Steel Orchestra is managed by Antonio Edgeton of Martinsville. This group is reaching out to “churches” in an attempt to spread its movement all over the nation. 

Berklee Shawn Thwaites, director of The Virginia All-Steel Orchestra, will share his story on how one can make a difference in his or her life as well as in the lives of others.

VASO is part of the Boys and Girls Club of the Blue Ridge. The group, ranging in ages from 9-18, practices three times a week. The director prepares the pieces without sheet music strictly from the soul. They partner with Pan United Youth Movement missioned under the direction of Berklee Shawn Thwaites who considers himself a success story coming from a broken home and difficult childhood. He was exposed to all of the street activity at an early age. 

Thwaites recalled hiding his talent while trying to keep a bad boy image to be accepted and not teased. As a result, he failed grades and was later kicked out of high school. Thwaites later received his diploma from night school. 

In 1993, Thwaites played for President Clinton’s Inauguration Ball with the Pan Master Steel Orchestra. He remembers going through security check with En Vogue, Aretha Franklin and Boys 2 Men thinking this is an opportunity that all youth should experience. The next school day, he went back to his bad image. 

Thwaites remembers telling his teacher about his experience, and she did not believe him. He continued his delinquent life, but he later came to a stop after losing his best friend in an automobile accident. 

Next, he started losing his friends to the street life. Thwaites said he started noticing what was happening to his friends in his life, so he decided to make a change and started focusing on his talent and dreams of uplifting his peers around him. 

As a result, the steel drums became Thwaites’ ticket from the Washington, D.C. streets into Berklee College of Music, where he founded the Pan United Movement.

He continues to teach and spread his gift through his nonprofit Pan United Youth Movement, “Where the Soul Meets Steel.” He teaches the youth discipline and responsibility while strengthening character when educating the youth on how to play the “Steel Drum or “Pan.” 

Thwaites turns at-risk youth into performers, and he gives them the opportunity to move beyond there troubled past into the positive world of music. Even though there are many hours of practice, the youth always feel at home with Thwaites. These experiences enable them to break down social barriers and rebuild their foundations as they plan short and long-term goals. 

Through self-gratification and social awareness, Thwaites said he is able to change the lives of youth. He is hoping to spread the youth movement this year through invitations to the Kennedy Center and Disney Music Festival as well as into the hearts of youth all over the country.