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Steelpan Music Concerts Chime in on the Holiday Season in New York

NYU Steel, CASYM, Higher Levin, among other New York orchestras, shine

Pan in New York for the holidays

New York - Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace and  Mecca for the steelpan music instrument but New York continues to plant the seeds for present and future greatness, in addition to maintaining its past legacy for distinction. Bringing up the rear or coming in second is simply not part of New York’s DNA.  With the holiday season upon us and the New Year of 2012 knocking at the door, it was lights, cameras and action in the Big Apple with a flare that only the city that calls “Broadway” home can produce.  Jack Frost may have been nipping at the nose but that didn’t phase these performers and musicians - it was Steel Pan in New York.  From half-pint seven year olds to two-tailed tux veterans, educators and professors -  steelpan music on the grand stage was in full effect and second to none.

Pan music and proud parents in the house

Four consecutive nights of a silver plate full of great steelpan music treats, entertainment and theatre on a very high level blanketed the NYC landscape. The old musicians and Broadway adage “Let Me Entertain You” was never more alive.

NYU Steel plays Philip Glass and Calypso Favorites

Josh Quillen directs NYU Steel
Josh Quillen directs NYU Steel

On Thursday evening at the NYU (New York University) Steinhardt Percussion Penthouse, Josh Quillen-directed NYU Steel of the prestigious NYU percussion department chaired  by Professor Jonathan Haas, gave a wonderful performance to a very engaged audience comprising primarily of parents - many of whom were making their first contact with the steelpan music instrument.  In fact family and friends were invited on stage to have an up-close experience that was unique, as sons and daughters played the instruments amid gazes of awe.

Musical director Josh Quillen led NYU Steel through a musically varied set labeled NYU Steel plays Philip Glass and Calypso Favorites.  He also took time to interact with the audience, sharing background on the individual pieces performed for the evening, and spoke on the experiences of the orchestra, and their journey to that point.

As an added treat everyone present was given a copy of NYU Steel’s recently released, ground-breaking CD “NYU Plays Philip Glass.”  Indeed, the vision and commitment of Professor Haas to the steelpan instrument have begun to pay big dividends.  The steelpan program has taken up permanent residence at NYU and has now begun to produce some very good steelpan musicians.  The invitation is already out for NYU Steel’s Spring 2012 concert carded for April 26.

Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts presents A Classical Holiday

Tichard Chapmen directs one of the Meyer Levin's steelbands
Tichard Chapmen directs one of the Meyer Levin's steelbands

On Friday, at Brooklyn’s School of the Performing Arts - I.S. 285 - Meyer Levin’s annual winter concert showcased “A Classical Holiday” featuring performances by the school’s various Steelband classes and Higher Levin Steel Orchestra.  Under the direction of the performing arts staff (Mr. L. Whyte - chorus, Mr. E. Braithwaite - dance, Mrs. D. Rodriguez - drama, and Mr. T. Chapman - steel orchestra) - students unveiled an evening filled with performances of chorus, dance and drama, backed by the school’s steel orchestra - in the traditional “pit.” 

The performing arts students - spanning 6th, 7th and 8th grades - delivered  dynamic performances to a capacity crowd (standing room only) at the Meyer Levin auditorium.  Proud and adoring parents glued their eyes to the stage and their respective offspring, applauding the program featuring everything from the Nutcracker Overture to the Hallelujah Chorus.

Steelpan music director Tichard Chapman has guided the program and its expansion to prominence.  Steelpan playing is much more than an art form, particularly in Brooklyn. It is a culture based on an improbable experience.  Mr. Chapman has met admirably, the challenge of  teaching, arranging  and directing a steel orchestra program in New York - the demanding, unofficial second land of Pan.  Every aspect of the show was handled by the students:  lighting, sound, stage crew and ushers - giving them valuable experience and preparation for careers in the performance arts arena.

CASYM presents Carols and Classics - A Holiday Extravaganza

Travis Roberts conducts CASYM
Travis Roberts conducts CASYM

Style, history and originality were on full display as the focus of Pan in New York moved to the Brooklyn Museum auditorium on Saturday where CASYM presented its annual Carols and Classics - A Holiday Extravaganza.”  From pint-sized players elevated by stepping on crates to reach their instruments - to CASYM Steel Orchestra’s respected stage side - they were all there.  The music organization’s tradition and undeniable success at attracting, developing and nurturing steelpan musicians from an early age into maturity, within the NYC public school educational system and community-based organizations - was an exhibition on what can be accomplished, with talent and dedication to education and excellence. 

In addition to CASYM Steel Orchestra, students of CASYM’s various music classes and performing arts educational programs happily showed off their musical talents - results of much diligent work put in - P.S. 91, P.S.161, M.S. 267, CASYM’s Class 1 and CASYM’s Class 2.  There was a buzz in the auditorium from start to finish as generations of CASYM players, parents and supporters merrily took in the performances of the enthusiastic young musicians.

Brooklyn Steel Orchestras present Annual Pan Parang

Sonatas performs at ‘Pan and Parang’
Sonatas performs at ‘Pan and Parang’

On Sunday, topping off this great weekend of Pan in New York were some of New York’s finest steel orchestras at the 2nd Annual Pan Parang.  The event featured performances by Pan Royal, Crossfire, Harmony, East Side Symphony, ADLIB, New York Pan Stars, Despers USA and Sonatas steel orchestras.  A virtual who’s who of New York steelpan music greats and legends were in attendance. 

In spite of the chilly temperatures made even more so by brisk winds, New Yorkers came in droves to the Tropical Paradise Ballroom in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, to attend the time-honored tradition of steelpan music during the holidays in New York. Again the audience was well entertained and appreciative of the performances by all the bands; some were dressed in seasonal holiday colors.

New York, NY
Holidays in The Big Apple

New York steel orchestras are always extremely happy to perform before family, friends and guests for the holidays to close off the year.  Indeed, this was the grand finale to a great series of performances in the Big Apple as only the New Yorkers can do.

Steelpan music is an undeniable part of that New York holiday season experience and tradition.  There is simply no place like New York at this time of the year, and again the city’s steelpan community showcased that they are indeed a special and key ingredient to that mix.

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