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NYU Steel Drum Ensemble Concert Splendor

Pan in a New York State of Mind - From “Glass” to “Boogsie”

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New York, New York - Great steelpan music is not uncommon to New York.  Some of the best steel orchestras in America call the town of Brooklyn, New York home. But across the river on the island of Manhattan - New York University (NYU), under the umbrella  of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development - has shown a serious commitment to the steelpan instrument and music for the genre.  Through the Department of Music and the Performing Arts Professions, NYU has been steadily on path to becoming one of the better New York steel ensembles in an institution of higher learning.

Frankly speaking - bogus steel orchestras ‘need not apply’ in the Big Apple.  If you have nothing to offer or have not mastered your craft, you will get your feelings hurt and laughed out of town in a New York minute.  There is simply no room for imposters or pretenders.  The NYU Steel Drum Ensemble has got players who are skilled, versatile and talented.  Look for the NYU Steelband Music program to make significant inroads within the steel orchestra music community over the next few years.  It is not out of the realm of possibility that in the not-to-distant future, the NYU program could field a serious contender for participation in the prestigious New York panorama - both in terms of size and musicianship.

Josh Quillen
Josh Quillen addresses the audience

The NYU Steel Drum Ensemble, under the direction of Josh R. Quillen took the stage of NYU’s Frederick Loewe Theatre located in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village, and delivered a fascinating potpourri of music for the steel orchestra.  Music works from Trinidad and Tobago’s legendary arranger, composer and performer Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and American iconic ‘minimalist’ composer Philip Glass were on the night’s music menu.  Incidentally, both composers are considered to be, by many, among the most influential composers of the late 20th century within their respective musical genres.

The bulk of the music performed centered around Quillen’s  arrangements of Philip Glass’ Piano Etudes (Vol. 1-10).  Musical works by Austin “Super Blue” Lyons, Clifford Alexis and of course Len “Boogsie” Sharpe were presented.  In addition, there was a special piece - Jerry’s Jump by Matt Dudack in tribute to Quillen’s father who was an avid steelpan music enthusiast.

The NYU Steel Drum Ensemble displayed ample command of the steelpan instrument to execute the Glass etudes with authority and passion.  The army-like marching procession and stiffness that plague many American steel orchestras was absent from the NYU Ensemble.  Quillen has done an excellent job in imparting to the players beyond the notes and phrases on the music sheets - the critical need to breathe life into the performance and connect with audience.  If you cannot get the audience to go “Ah, yes” don’t bother!

NYU Steelband picture two
The New York University Steel Drum Ensemble at the Frederick Loewe Theatre

Quillen took time at every juncture to explain and share the history of the instrument, detailing the spirit and seriousness which its originators  give to the instrument and their performances before audiences.  The NYU Ensemble was particularly successful in enlisting audience participation in their performance.  It was clear that the ensemble had struck a chord with attendees.

From a strictly musical standpoint, we would have liked to have seen an added tenor bass and a quad to fill out some of the passages.  In any regard, Quillen did a respectable job in making the successful transition from piano to the steel orchestra, with arrangements utilizing the family of steelpan instruments for the Glass instrumental musical compositions. The ensemble truly shined in these pieces.  The other Soca/Reggae pieces were also ascribed creditable performances with quality interpretations.

The Frederick Loewe Theatre is an outstanding place to listen to a steel orchestra.  The sound was excellent.  The group and engineers got it right during their sound check and executed a flawless sonic presentation.

Overall, all aspects of the event were professional seen to.  The show program was informative with all critical details.

NYU Steinhardt is an internationally renowned faculty in an acclaimed academic university within the art and culture capital of the world, New York City. 

The Glass arrangements are part of an ongoing project for the group, which will culminate with the recording of all ten Piano Etudes in May of 2010.  The NYU Steel Drum Ensemble persists with their ongoing objective to preserve the traditional works of the past, while continuing to push the envelope and transform the status of the steel drum.

The steel drum ensemble has performed the musical works of composer Philip Glass as far back as 2007, when a special tribute to Glass was held.  Entitled “A Philip Glass Birthday Concert,” it was the first ever all-percussion concert performance of the composer’s music, and the steel drum ensemble, then fielding seven players, was among featured performers.

Program Notes - NYU
(by Sean Statser)

NYU ensemble
NYU Steel Drum Ensemble on stage at Frederick Loewe Theatre, New York University, NY, NY

Barbara - Austin “Super Blue” Lyons/arr. Murray Mast - Composer and performer Austin “Super Blue” Lyons was born in Point Fortin, Trinidad. He is considered to be the originator of the “jump and wave” style of soca music and is known for his daring antics while performing. He has won several steelband competitions throughout his illustrious career, including the prestigious International Soca Monarch a record six times. Barbara is an up-tempo soca and was arranged for steelband by Murray Mast. Soca music is one of the 2 major forms of steel drum music that originates from Trinidad and Tobago. The other being calypso music, which is more akin to Trinidad’s older folk music traditions. Soca music is more closely related to dance-hall beats.

Piano Etudes - Philip Glass/arr. Joshua Quillen - Composer Philip Glass is considered by many to be one of the most prolific and influential composers of the late 20th century. While his compositional style is generally labeled as “minimalism,” he prefers to speak of himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures.” Throughout his illustrious career lasting over 25 years, Glass has composed 20 operas, 8 symphonies, concerti for piano, violin, timpani, and saxophone quartet, several film scores, and a large body of solo piano repertoire.  

In the mid-90’s, inspired by his widely popular solo piano performances, Glass began work on a set of piano etudes. Over ten years later, new music is still being added to the collection. Glass notes, “Their purpose was two-fold. First, to provide new music for my solo piano concerts and second, for me to expand my piano technique with music that would enhance and challenge my playing. Hence, the name Etudes, or ‘studies’. The result is a body of work that has a broad range of dynamic, tempo and emotion. I hope to complete a second set of ten etudes, of which the first six are already composed, in the next few years.” In the fall of 2007, So Percussion member and NYU Steel Drum Ensemble Director Josh Quillen began arranging the first volume of Etudes for steel drum ensemble. The Etudes dense textures lend themselves well to steel drum ensemble, and Quillen’s arrangements provide a unique and innovative approach to the performance of Philip Glass’ music.

Jerry’s Jump - Matt Dudack - Dedicated to the late Jerry Quillen, the “Dover Daddio,” who was a huge supporter of the Dover High School Steel Band in Dover, Ohio. Jerry’s enthusiasm for steelband music is captured in this up-tempo soca with theme and variations. Jerry’s Jump is inspired by the music of Panorama, the annual Carnival competition for steel bands in Trinidad.

Matt Dudack is Artistic Director of the University of Akron Steel Drum Band and is a member of the Akron Symphony Orchestra.  He is also directs steelband programs at the Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron, Ohio and at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Matt’s compositions and arrangements are published by Mau Mau Music (www.maumsumusic.com) and he is currently writing one of the first comprehensive steelband methods. Matt is a member of Akros: Percussion Collective, a group dedicated to performing new music for percussion. He has premiered music by Stuart Sunders Smith, Emmanuel Sejourne, John Bergamo, Ben Johnston, Nikolas Gerzewski, and Robert Carl. 

Confusion Reggae - Cliff Alexis - Cliff Alexis is a native of Trinidad and Tobago, who first came to the U.S. in 1964 as a member of the National Steelband of Trinidad and Tobago. He currently serves as Director of the Northern Illinois Steelband, which was one of the first schools in the country to offer a masters degree in steel drum building and tuning, as well as performance. In addition to being a skilled pan builder and tuner, Cliff is in high-demand as a composer, arranger, clinician and performer. Confusion Reggae is an aggressive reggae, which features the bass and low pans throughout.

Sarah - Len “Boogsie” Sharpe - Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Len Sharpe has become one of the most influential figures in steel pan music today. He has performed with several well-known groups including Starlift, the Invaders, and Phase II Pan Groove, who won 1st place at the Panorama steelband competition in 1987, 1988, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Although he never learned to read or write music, his musical intellect is highly developed, which is reflected in his composition Sarah, an up-tempo soca. “Boogsie,” as he is more commonly known, is currently the arranger for Phase II Pan Groove, one of the largest steelbands in Trinidad.

Steel Drum Ensemble Bio  

The NYU Steinhardt Steel Drum Ensemble, under the direction of Josh Quillen, is dedicated to exploring the art of steel pans to the fullest, performing rare compositions and arrangements ranging in scope from Philip Glass to the Trinidadians who invented the art form. In the spring of 2010, the ensemble will collaborate with composer Philip Glass to record Quillen’s arrangements of his Piano Etudes (Vol. I, Nos. 1 – 10).  

In addition to his work with So Percussion, Josh R. Quillen has performed in steel drumming ensembles all over the country. He played with Len “Boogsie” Sharpe’s Phase II Pan Groove in Trinidad/Tobago during Carnival in 2002. He has commissioned several new works for contemporary steel drum including Roger Zahab’s I Still Dream and Pan Man by Bruce J. Taub, the second of which was premiered in New York City in May of 2004. He has participated in premieres of pieces as part of the New Music Ensemble, Daedulus, under the direction of Roger Zahab. He has performed as a section percussionist with the Akron Symphony Orchestra, and is well versed in marimba and multiple-percussion. A recent performance included a solo piece with the University of Akron Steel Drum Band accompanying the Ohio Ballet. Mr. Quillen studied with Robert Van Sice at Yale University (MM) as well as Dr. Larry Snider at the University of Akron (BM, ME).

Steel Drum Ensemble

  • Jesse Brickel

  • Andrew Broadwater

  • Jeff Eng

  • Danielle Fortner

  • Paul Frucht

  • Spencer Hale

  • Dave Heath

  • Kelly Kramer

  • Garrett Lanzet

  • Nick Manning

  • Andrew Monteiro

  • Alex Reynolds

  • Jacqueline Russo

  • Aaron Silberstein

  • Sean Statser

  • Frank Tyl

For more info about the Steel Drum Ensemble, contact Josh Quillen - josh@sopercussion.com

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