If Beethoven was alive today he would most likely have been a panist and a composer for a steelband. And when he was not hanging out in a Brooklyn Panyard, he would be at NYU (New York University) hanging out with NYU Steel’s director Josh Quillen and Percussion program chairman Jonathan Haas. Why? NYU Steel is a living, breathing case study in community outreach - cultural diversity - the pursuit of excellence - authenticity - personal growth - professionalism - respect, and the exchange of ideas. A case study in possibilities realized thorough the open embracing of the unknown and the different, thereby creating a nurturing environment that meets the challenge of enhancing creativity, increasing production and simultaneously nurturing the spirit and mind with integrity.
Maybe it was the threat of more rain—after days of the same continuously—on another dreary day that looked more like the beginning of March, than the beginning of the Summer gateway, May, in the Big Apple. Or maybe it was that retrograde feeling that appears to be taking cues out of David Rudder’s “Madness” that seems to have the world in its grip these days.
Whatever the reason for the lowering of the apparent world happiness index, the annual NYU Steel Spring Concert was on time and just what the doctor ordered. A serious reprieve from that red banner across the screen screaming Breaking News.
The doors opened a little after 7:00 p.m. to let the sizable crowd lined up outside, into the Frederick Loewe Theatre on the NYU campus. Within minutes the theatre reflected near-capacity - to be later completely filled with some of the late arrivers on this Friday evening.
NYU Steel director Josh Quillen (second from right) conducts the steel ensemble at its 2017 Spring Concert
Pan at NYU is not an unknown musical entity. It is now a tradition and moreover, NYU Steel has become another established thread in the fabric of Pan in New York. And Pan is serious business in the Big Apple. Every year less hands are held up, when NYU Steel director Josh Quillen asks the obligatory question “How many of you are seeing the steelpan for the first time?”
NYU Steel Ensemble opens its 2017 Spring Concert at the Frederick Loewe Theatre
The faces change, folks graduate and move on, but NYU Steel through its association with the prestigious NYU Percussion Program keeps on keeping on. The goals and culture of NYU Steel are now firmly entrenched. Established history and tradition - achievement and successes in churning out outstanding music and performing arts professionals under the auspices of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions - are the norm.
Pan Evolution, NYU Steel, Victor Provost in joint performance on stage
As is customary the 2017 NYU Spring Concert again featured noteworthy guest artists, who performed and worked with NYU Steel for the event. This year the spotlight was shared with panist, educator and performing artist Victor Provost, and champion arranger, panist and performing artist Andre White in collaboration with Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra from Brooklyn.
Aviel John of Pan Evolution on six-bass at the 2017 NYU Steel Spring Concert
Continuing the theme of exchange of ideas, new approaches and direct contact, NYU Steel again showed its commitment to exposing both its students, and by extension the audience, to a wide range of music that challenges the expected norms, reach, experiences and possibilities. Opening with a Matt Dudack-arrangement of Trinidad and Tobago’s David Rudder’s “Adrenalin City” and “Caribbean Party,” the group then transitioned to a marvelous rendition of Vienna Teng’s “Hymn of Acxiom” that was arranged by NYU Steel’s very own Tyler Mashek.
Victor Provost performs at NYU Steel’s 2017 Spring Concert
Collaborative performances with the extremely talented and respected Victor Provost were a welcome engagement as Provost brought a different brand of personal storytelling to his playing, improvising perspective, compositions and arrangements - laced with elements of jazz and blues voicings for the steel orchestra while seated atop movements from the Baroque period. Provost shared his deeply personal compositions like “Though We Haven’t Met” and “Twenty.” This encounter had to surely expand the NYU Steel percussionist mindset with musical possibilities, in addition to, the importance and value of clearly stating a melody as a means of connecting with an audience. And Provost imparted his session overall in what could be termed ‘island style’ cadence especially when he interacted with the audience, while leaving no doubt as to his sophistication in steel, performance-wise.
In Andre White NYU Steel got to work with and experience the music of, one of the best young steelpan music arrangers and composers on the planet. His brilliance is in embracing the sensibilities of the ‘old school’ while charting out a bold and new era for the new.
Andre is a thoughtful, deep-thinking and empathetic musician who utilizes elements of funk, jazz, gospel, reggae, soul and hip-hop, sometimes on top of a soca groove, to story-tell. In effect, encompassing the urban Caribbean experience that has been a part of the American music landscape for many generations - from the likes of Mac Beth the Great to his son Ralph MacDonald, to Mandrill, to the ‘New York’ Clive Bradley, to Rihanna to Nicki Minaj and more. Andre White’s compositions and arrangements embrace and speak to the concerns of our time. His Panorama works are operatic in detailing the black experience - joys, pains and realities - through the voicings of the steel orchestra. The NYU Steel/Pan Evolution performance of Snarky Puppy’s “Like A Light” and Andre White’s “Liberation” were on point.
Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra performs at NYU Steel’s 2017 Spring Concert
Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra exposed the NYU Steel community to that infectious Brooklyn Pan attitude - competitive, fun and as serious as a heart attack: whether it is 5, 50 or 100 - “You are going to remember us.” When Pan Evolution dropped its version of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” (surely not one that will be soon forgotten) it became abundantly clear to all what a community orchestra ‘Straight Out of Brooklyn’ can do, and the power of Pan. And if you were not moving when that was played - you had better check your pulse. Simply put, regardless of your day job or life responsibilities - it is understood in Pan: always got to give 100 and represent. Indeed, as all members of Pan Evolution, literally stepped out of their regular 9-5, off the train or out of class and on to Frederick Loewe Theatre’s stage. Their real life experiences, edge and passion bring an element to the stage that cannot be duplicated or simulated in the classroom setting.
The show closed with what is now an NYU Steel tradition - a performance of a song with a full Panorama arrangement. This year the song chosen was Ray Holman’s “We Just Can’t Go On Like This” arranged by the very versatile and talented Le’Roi Simmonds - a member of NYU Steel and NYU percussion program.
Le’Roi Simmonds, (second from left) with NYU Steel
NYU Steel gave a great accounting of themselves, again showing maximum
adaptability as the members moved smoothly between different instruments in
the steelpan family of instruments for
different songs. Their professionalism and musical flexibility shone through as they met the challenges of embracing different genres and
styles for a command performance.
All of the NYU Steel concerts are memorable, entertaining and educational in real tangible ways. When Steel Talks (WST) has watched NYU Steel students establish relationships with community musicians beyond the singular Spring performance. Some have even become active members within the family of Brooklyn steel orchestras. Recently an NYU Steel graduate performed MC duties at a Brooklyn steel orchestra-themed event. He said he ‘had to reciprocate’ when asked if he would have considered the task simply because of the shared experiences he had with the members of the Brooklyn orchestras.
NYU Steel, Dr. Jonathan Haas and Josh Quillen have wrapped up another very successful Percussion program and year inclusive of Pan. Moreover, they are known for walking the walk and continuing to connect with the world through music and Pan -- whether with a song in tribute to Nelson Mandela, or remembering late panists Asami Nagakiya and Melissa Woodroffe. If you have any doubt get your headphones out, go to YouTube and type NYU Steel and just listen!
Victor Provost is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading voices on the unique, and often misunderstood, steel pan (or steel drum). Through appearances at concert halls, clubs, and stages throughout the world, he has been meticulously developing a reputation as a “dazzling” soloist, crafting an impressive improvisational voice and style. With a strong foundation in bebop, a contemporary sensibility, and deep roots in Caribbean music, he seamlessly melds and mixes genres. The Washington D.C. City Paper’s “Jazz Percussionist of the Year” six years running, his new recording Bright Eyes debuted at #5 on the iTunes Top 40 Jazz Charts and has been met with praise from The Washington Post, Downbeat Magazine, and Hot House Magazine, as well as artists and presenters.
In addition to leading his own group, Victor tours with NEA Jazz Master, Paquito D’Rivera, is a member of the Grammy award–winning Afro Bop Alliance, and works with several of the Mid-Atlantic region’s most lauded musical collectives. Already in his relatively young career, he has performed and recorded with Jazz luminaries such as Wynton Marsalis, Hugh Masakela, Joe Locke, Nicholas Payton, Terell Stafford, Dave Samuels, Steve Nelson, Ron Blake, and Wycliffe Gordon, among others.
Victor is an Adjunct Professor of Music at George Mason University and conducts residencies and master classes throughout the United States and the Caribbean at schools such as Berklee College of Music in Boston, University of Akron, Miami University, NYU, TTU, and Northern Illinois University. He is also an Arts Ambassador to his hometown of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which honored him with a Special Congressional Recognition in 2014, and to which returns frequently to perform and teach as part of Dion Parson’s community-based arts initiative, the United Jazz Foundation.
Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra is a newly-created Brooklyn-based organization with the sole purpose of bringing the youths together to advance the steelpan instrument and the art form within the communities near and far.
NYU Steel emphasizes an artistically and culturally diverse array of performance styles that break with traditional boundaries surrounding the esoteric genre of steel pan music. NYU Steel seeks to create a bond between artist and audience that warrants an environment of creativity and community. With a hunger for innovation and desire to explore all the possibilities of steel pan music, NYU Steel is a unique ensemble, drawing from the rich cultural sounds of the Caribbean while incorporating the works of prominent composers such as Philip Glass in order to gain the instrument prominence on the world stage. As part of a global initiative instituted in collaboration with New York University, NYU Steel is constantly pursuing ways to reach audiences of an international scope, striving to cultivate a niche on the world stage. At the same time, NYU Steel continues to nurture relationships with the local community, intent on becoming a leader in education, performance, and creativity.
NYU Steel Ensemble
Andrew Adams, Austin Choi, Brandon Wong, Chen Yang, Christian Melhado, Declan Zhang, HanHan Jiang, Jared Shaw, John Gavin, Kate Barmotina, Le’Roi Simmonds, Noah Hadland, Rose Egan, Sara Barsky, Sarah Bennett, Sarian Sankoh, Sean Millman, Shannon Silver, TJ Maistros, Tyler Mashek, Will Marinelli, Yaz Lancaster
Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra
Shania Baker-Chance, Wayne Bernard, Matthew Bascombe, JGabriel Bruce, Anthony Sharpe, Brandon Waldrop, Andre White, Adrian Ramdoo, Zion Hutchinson, Tiffany Fields, Kamicha Arthur, Aviel John, Danielle Gamory, Amira Beache, Dashawn Wallace, Lenny King, Adriel Vincent-Brown
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