Philadelphia, USA - Regardless of its final placing in the September 1 Labour Day pan playoff at the Brooklyn Museum grounds in New York, Caribbean Youth Panoramics (CYP) steelband will be in a position to rest on laurels, having already secured a benchmark triumph.
On Monday last, the 45-member band, whose players range between the ages of 8 and 19 years old, established what international pan observers insist is a world record for attendance at a concert by a single steelband.
New York-based website www.panonthenet.com was first in reporting an audience of 7,000 (an estimate later confirmed by venue officials) for CYP’s outdoor concert at Philadelphia’s Mann Center for the Performing Arts. The band shared the bill with the city’s Spoken Hand Orchestra, a drumming group that explores rhythm traditions of West Africa, the Afro-Cuban experience, Brasil and Northern India.
Speaking on Friday to The Express from CYP’s Brooklyn rehearsal space, Trinidad-born founder and captain Joseph Gerald said: “It was truly overwhelming, in fact, unbelievable at first, when we saw the crowd that turned up to hear the band. We performed for about 45 minutes and the response was fantastic after every single song. The kids are still ecstatic about the whole experience.”
Gerald, known on the Laventille Hill as “Franklin”, is credited with having mastered the first nine-bass cluster designed and tuned by (the late) Rudolph Charles in 1974 for Witco Desperadoes steel orchestra. “The Philadelphia drummers played first and then we went on at about 11.30 am,” he said. “The crowd was predominantly non-West Indian and mostly coming from the city’s school population. After the performance, they came and wanted to touch the instruments and meet the players. It was all fantastic. We were told then and there it was the biggest crowd the annual event had attracted since the series started in 1999.”
Billed as The International Drum Summit, CYP was advertised as “Brooklyn’s finest youth orchestra, presenting island rhythms, top 40, and hip-hop all on steel drums!” Like most of the community pan festivals held here that attract thousands, admission and parking were free, but this was the attraction of a single orchestra - not the parade or festival of top-flight bands that have been known to pull such numbers.
Peter B. Lane, President and CEO for The Mann Center for the Performing Arts - would later say to the pannists at a small reception: “Your performance drew a record-breaking crowd in the five-year history of the Center’s Young People in Concert Series.” Education/Outreach Director for the Center, Rhoda A. Blount was also full of praise for the band’s performance, and assured they would be invited back for the 2004 series.
The Mann, one of the largest outdoor amphitheatres in the US, is the summer home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but also offers a music mix that ranges from pop to opera, as well as Broadway and dance events. This year, the summer series was dedicated to a celebration of the power and passion of the diverse cultures of Asia, Africa, Spain, and the Caribbean, along with movements inspired by street culture, basketball, and the stage.
PanOnTheNet/When Steel Talks (WST) reported that at the CYP show, “the musicians swung into a Latin-flavored piece for their opening number, followed by a sultry arrangement of ‘Red Red Wine’. Gerald then directed them through crescendos and falls of a soul-stirring delivery of the gospel traditional ‘Be Still My Soul’. ‘Jala Jala’, like the other pieces, met with immense appreciation, but CYP’s final choice - the Jackson 5 classic ‘I Want You Back’ clinched the set and garnered roars of approval.
“As is always the case, there were people in awe, never before having heard or seen a steel orchestra performance, and the queries ranged from ‘What is making all the high notes?’ to ‘How do you make the instrument?’ Gerald was only too pleased to answer these questions and more.
“After the show,” WST said, “several members of the audience quickly made their way down to the front of the stage and gathered round to receive an impromptu lesson and hear the history of the steelpan.” CYP has drawn playing position number one for the much anticipated Labour Day Panorama. Gerald said: “It may sound like an unfortunate position to many, but the pride and enthusiasm that the kids have at this time will carry us through and I feel sure we will do very well this year.”