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Ace Steelpan musician Ryan Joseph is ‘Lypo Tom’ in “The Pan Man”

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Ryan Joseph during recording session with Pan Sonatas Steel Orchestra
Ryan Joseph (left) during recording session
with Pan Sonatas Steel Orchestra

New York - He is one of the better known faces on the New York steelpan music scene.  A frontline player with the champion steel orchestra Pan Sonatas, and, one of the core members of its stage side, Ryan Joseph is additionally a member of the highly visible, well-known, cutting edge music group Steel Sensation based in Queens, New York.  And now he will add the role of ‘actor’ to his many achievements when he takes on the lead role of “Lypo  Tom” in the play “The Pan Man” on July 2 and 3 in New York, with three shows carded for each date.

Ryan Joseph during a recording session with Steel Sensation in 2005
Ryan Joseph (right) during a recording session
with Steel Sensation in 2005

A mere twenty-one years old, this young but talented individual is a veteran musician.  He has been enamored with the steelpan instrument and art form for many years, having played with Sesame Flyers Steel Orchestra before moving over fully to Pan Sonatas.  And it was at the pan yard of the latter that playwright Franky Duke would be shepherded toward Ryan in his quest for a dynamic lead for his play “The Pan Man.”

Beside his love of his music - Ryan has another love - helping people.  And it is for this reason that he is pursuing a role in Radiologic Technology.  Figuring out that the health field was a great place to follow his heartfelt desire, Ryan explained “I get satisfaction through helping people...if that means I am able to attain the skills to detect something that can save someone’s life, possibly, or even cure an abnormality or some health problem, that means a lot to me.”

But before eventually settling on his college goals Ryan, along with his fellow musicians, was doing very well aiding in the feeling of ‘well-being’ for anyone who was within earshot.  It was steelpan ‘music for the soul’ being served up for all music lovers fortunate enough to catch such performances, either of Pan Sonatas or Steel Sensation, with Ryan in the line-up.

Ryan Joseph performs with Pan Sonatas Steel Orchestra
Ryan Joseph (third from left)
performs with Pan Sonatas Steel Orchestra

It has been a balancing act during the last two months or so for Ryan.  Studies at New York City of Technology, work after school, commitments to Steel Sensation and Pan Sonatas - and naturally, rehearsals for “The Pan Man” all had his attention and commitment.  And now at last, it is time to unveil the fruits of his efforts in the play.

Ryan Joseph
Ryan Joseph

With a few of the proverbial butterflies in his stomach, the experience has paid off for Ryan.   Laughing a bit, he says there are a few nerves “thinking about when those seats fill up!”  “It is an honor to play the role of the Pan Man....I love to play steelpan and it is a wonderful opportunity to try something new - acting - and to showcase it while doing something I love.”

At first, he admits, he was a bit intimidated being in the company of experienced cast members, some with a background in theater.  But he became more comfortable, Ryan says, with his lines and motivation.  He started to bring his personality and feelings into play - while enjoying doing something he never ever thought he would be doing (acting)!  And he is grateful to his fellow cast mates for all that he is learning along the way.

Ryan Joseph performs with Steel Sensation
Ryan Joseph (center) performs with Steel Sensation

The history of the steelpan instrument and culture, and the related challenges faced by many steelpan musicians over the decades - are known to almost everyone, including Ryan.  Interestingly, the story woven around the character of ‘Lypo Tom’ - where he sneaks away to play steelpan, is one which Ryan himself is able to relate to somewhat personally.

He explained that while still a member of Sesame Flyers, he himself often ‘sneaked off’ to Pan Sonatas to ‘take [learn] music’ with the orchestra, so much was his pan passion.  His mother had given him permission to play only with Sesame Flyers and did not know about his additional pursuit.  When she was eventually told, Ryan did not experience the social stigmatization and hardships visited upon many of those who did so years ago.  He did however find the partial similarities between his character, Lypo, and his own - intriguing.

Ryan Joseph (right) with the earlier incarnation of Steel Sensation
Ryan Joseph (right) with an earlier incarnation of Steel Sensation

“It actually reminded me how fortunate I am to get the opportunity to play the steelpan - as in the past some others were not as fortunate to get into playing the instrument.  And it makes me appreciate the instrument a little more.  I get a little more history; I can see where it actually came from.  [Through the play] I can see the hardships that the instrument went through to get to where it is today,” Ryan explained.

His Mom, Dad and other family members were quite taken aback - and excited - when Ryan first told them he was cast in the play, and even more so that his was the lead character.  But they are totally behind him, and like many people, already have “The Pan Man” in their calendars as a ‘must-attend.’

Ryan Joseph with some of the Pan Sonatas crew at their panyard
Ryan Joseph (right) with some of
the Pan Sonatas crew at their panyard

The stage is set - literally - at the Baruch Performing Arts Center at Baruch College, in New York.  Two days, six shows - Franky Duke’s play “The Pan Man” with David Duncan and Karen Joseph as Lypo’s father and mother Rufus and Josephina Tom, with a full performing cast - is an event not to be missed. 

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