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NYU Steel is for Real

No schizophrenic behavior about the Steelpan - in the school of Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development... 

Another When Steel Talks Concert Review

In Pictures

NYU Poster
NYU Music & Performing Arts Professions Spring performance program

New York, New York - For this Spring Steel Orchestra concert, When Steel Talks (WST) is in one of the iconic quarters of Gotham City - the  beautiful Frederick Loewe Theatre on the NYU (New York University) campus.  NYU Steel is about to have its final  performance of the semester as part of the NYU Music and Performance Arts Professions Spring 2012 events.

The prestigious Percussion Studies program at NYU Steinhardt is unique, and may certainly boast at being the only such degree program where learning to play the steelpan instrument is mandatory for all its students regardless of their focus area and instrument of choice. The NYU program offers B.M., M.M., Ph.D. in music performance.

In a relatively short time NYU Steel, the brainchild of the department Chairman, Professor Jonathan Haas, has established itself as a serious ensemble. But moreover, this instrumental aggregation provides its participants and audience deeper insight into another culture, broadens their musical horizons and strengthens their educational and human development.

Maybe it’s something about the air and attitude of New York—“ain’t got no time for  nonsense”—or maybe because this was master arranger Clive Bradley’s town, and literally a stone’s throw away sit the champions of North America  - Sonatas, Despers USA, Pantonic, CASYM and a little further east on the island, ADLIB... WST came to listen to tone, musicianship, technique, arrangement and story telling.  Indeed after five years of existence we came with high expectations.  NYU Steel did not disappoint.

NYU Steel performs on stage at the Frederick Loewe Theatre

They opened up with the legendary Len “Boogsie” Sharpe’s “Shaw Park;” then they dropped a Chopin piece “Prelude and Fugue” - following that up with the world premiere of “Kids,” a piece commissioned and written for NYU Steel by Payton MacDonald. And the audience roared. They dropped another “Boogsie” piece, the moving and emotional “Cryin” - followed by a duet of the great Lord Kitchener’s “Pan in ‘A’ Minor” performed by Murray Mast and Josh Quillen. 

Director Josh Quillen addresses audience
Director Josh Quillen addresses audience

The musical director of NYU Steel, Quillen called the Kitchener classic one of his all-time favorites.  He talks about calypso “the folk music of Trinidad and Tobago” with knowledge and reverence, and about soca as the modern day hip-hop version of calypso.  And just in case you didn’t get the message, NYU Steel brought Winston Bailey’s—aka The Mighty Shadow—“Swing de Ting” into the mix.  Indeed this master of the Trinidad and Tobago folk music and soca/calypso musical genre, Shadow, would be proud to hear this version of his song thousands of miles away from his homeland. And yes the normally reserved New York University audience lost their “good behavior” and smiled, swayed, cheered, whistled and hooted in their seats. NYU Steel then switched gears in a move that would have Dale Earnhardt blushing as Quillen lead the band into the Latin-tinged “Fuego Contra Fuego.”  For good measure and a showcasing of their versatility NYU Steel decided to bring some Rhythm and Blues to the table with Len “Boogsie” Sharpe’s “Sunday Morning Funk.”

Audience joins NYU Steel on stage for the finale
Audience joins NYU Steel on stage for the finale

And when Quillen invited the audience on stage for the grand finale, to see for themselves what was going on as the band performed - the audience bum-rushed (but still in as respectable a manner as they could muster) the stage with absolutely “no behavior or shame” and smiled, danced and clapped through Andre Tanker’s “Steelband Times” - it was Game Over... Mission accomplished.  Everyone understood that there is something infectious, marvelous and uplifting about the spirit of the instrument.  Ironically it was only a few days ago that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of the music of Trinidad and Tobago—while himself playing a steelpan—as one that improves human condition.

The NYU Steel students are young, bright, talented and come from varied backgrounds. For some this was their final performance with NYU Steel. The semester is over and some of the students will be moving on to the next phase of their professional music careers.  One thing is for certain, the Steelpan instrument, the music and their experience in NYU Steel, will have a life-long impact.

NYU Steel
NYU Steel

Even though they were playing the steelpan to an engaged and appreciative audience, it is doubtful that these young people who embody world-class musical talents on “traditional instruments,” could ever have envisioned themselves in this moment. Nevertheless here they were. And such is the brilliance and foresight of Professor Jonathan Haas.

The corridor of the Frederick Loewe Theatre serves as a hall of fame for many past American greats of song, dance and theatre. The walls are adorned with brass plaques paying tribute to great American musicians the likes of Ira Berlin, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, George Michael Cohan and many others. It may be some time before a similar performance facility and hall of fame structure honor the greats of the Steelpan music genre - with names like Jules, Samaroo, Bradley, Goddard and Sharpe among others. But on this night, thousands of miles away, they can at least take solace in the fact that the steelpan instrument and music were well represented by NYU Steel.

NYU Steel
Bass player in NYU Steel

And indeed they were; the consensus would come from friends and family members of NYU Steel, from a couple who flew in to New York solely to take in the show, and from one lady seated close to the front of the auditorium who jumped to her feet and clapped while exclaiming “It’s amazing!”

The Frederick Loewe Theatre probably never rocked quite like that before, but it is safe to say that the Gershwins would enthusiastically approve, of course, together with master arranger Clive Bradley (who was all about music education) by their side, with his mischievous grin, saying “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

About NYU Steel

NYU Steel is a significant performance ensemble within the NYU Steinhardt Percussion Program, where Professor Jonathan Haas serves as Director. Under the direction of Joshua Quillen, NYU Steel is dedicated to exploring the art of steel pans to the fullest, performing rare compositions and arrangements ranging in scope from Philip Glass and Jason Trueting, to David Rudder and Lord Kitchener from Trinidad and Tobago, where the art form was invented. The ensemble presents several unique performances each year, collaborating with composers globally, while enriching the steel drum repertoire. Additional NYU Steel productions worthy of anticipation include a CD release party for the exclusive recording of Philip Glass’ Piano Etudes, arranged by Joshua Quillen, which was released by Orange Mountain Music in May 2011, as well as promotional and tribute performances for Glass’ 75th birthday.  

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 has created the most unique ensemble of its kind, 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 in an international scope, driving to cultivate a niche in the world stage. At the same time, NYU Steel continues to nurture relationships with the local community, intent on becoming leaders in education, performance, and creativity.

Members of New York’s steelband community were also on hand to take in the concert, such as Dolisa Green and members of her band, Majestic Heights Seven Day Adventist Steel Band out of Brooklyn.

It is ironic that while, in its land of birth, Trinidad and Tobago, the steelpan instrument finds itself in an unenviable situation as relates to its place within the community, entertainment industry, political and most disappointingly, in the music   educational arenas - no such issues exist here in New York or North America, or the rest of the world for that matter.  In fact the instrument and culture are generally treated with nothing but respect and love.  All things considered NYU is one of the best places for the steelpan instrument.

Observing Professor Haas taking in the concert while seated in the auditorium  along with the audience, was like watching a proud parent beam over the accomplishments of his/her children.  Undoubtedly Haas doesn’t operate in a vacuum or isolated on an island.  He affords his students a full musical and world experience in addition to the top-ranked education NYU provides. It was only a couple of months ago that Professor Haas invited the New York elite champion Sonatas Steel Orchestra to perform on the same card with NYU Steel at the 2012 PAS KoSA NYU Weekend of Percussion.

A job well done.  The Spring evening belonged to NYU Steel, now officially a bona fide member of the greater New York steel band community.

Now on to the bands of Summer.  Let the ‘game of New York steel band musical thrones begin.’

Contact -
Jonathan Haas:
Sean Statser:

NYU Steel Members
Marc Akiyama, Greg Auffredou, Jamiah Braithwaite, Andrew Broadwater, Ben Calvert, Megan Emmanuel, Shaun Gallant, Akini Gill, Spencer Hale, Crystal In Andrew Kendris, Diana Lambert, Matthew Lau, Yale Litwin, Jeremy Lowe, Nick Manning, Andy McBeath, Matthew Overbay, Jamie Pittle, Becky Reid, Aaron Silberstein, Sabre Standifer, Jamison Williams, Kendall Williams, James Woolf
NYU Steel with tuner Kyle Dunleavy at left, and Professor Jonathan Haas, right
NYU Steel members with tuner Kyle Dunleavy at left, Murray Mast second from left, and Professor Jonathan Haas, right

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Find more photos like this on When Steel Talks


Shaw Park Len “Boogsie” Sharpe

Ashley Len “Boogsie” Sharpe/arr. Liam Teague

Prelude and Fugue Chopin/Mendelssohn/arr. Andy McBeath

Kids - World Premiere

Payton MacDonald
Cryin’ Len “Boogsie” Sharpe

Pan in “A” Minor Aldwyn Roberts/arr. Murray Mast and Josh Quillen

Swing de Ting Winston “Shadow” Bailey/arr. Murray Mast

Fuego Contra Fuego Mariano Perez and Carlos Gomez/
arr. Liam Teague

Sunday Morning Funk

Len “Boogsie” Sharpe/arr. Liam Teague
Steelband Times Andre Tanker/arr. Liam Teague

Program Notes and Biographies

I have two kids. They are noisy, joyful, creative, destructive, loving, and very sweet. I wrote Kids while they were crashing around the house, distracting me and inspiring me, making me laugh and groan. This is for Madeline and Maia, and all the other beautiful kids in the world. Special thanks to Josh Quillen and the NYU Steel for all of their hard work. - Payton MacDonald

Payton MacDonald (b. 1974, Idaho Falls, Idaho) is a composer/improviser/percussionist. He has created a unique body of work that draws upon his extensive experience with East Indian tabla drumming, American military rudimental drumming, Jazz, European classical music, and the American experimental tradition. He works across multiple musical genres, often at the same time.

MacDonald studied music at the University of Michigan and the Eastman School of Music. His composition teachers include Sydney Hodkinson, Robert Morris, Dave Rivello, Bright Sheng, and Augusta Read Thomas. His percussion teachers include John Beck and Michael Udow. Further studies include tabla with Bob Becker and Pandit Sharda Sahai. MacDonald is a disciple of Mr. Sahai. The New York Times described him as an “energetic soloist” and The Los Angeles Times described him as an “inventive, stylistically omnivorous composer and gifted performer.” MacDonald is an Associate Professor of Music at William Paterson University.

NYU Steel
Murray Mast

Murray Mast has been performing as a professional steel drummer for over 15 years. He has been a member of several gigging steel bands, including 7 Mile Isle and Pandemonium in Northeast Ohio and Steel Rhythm in Boston. He has been a guest soloist with the Hartt School Steel Band, NYU Steel, the University of Akron Steel Band, the Connecticut Master Chorale, and the National Youth Choir. He has also travelled to Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he performed in the National Panorama Competition with the BWIA Invaders and the Royal Castle Potential Symphony. This May, he will be performing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert with the Foundry Steel Pan Ensemble, presenting Alloy by composer and steel drummer Andy Akiho, with whom he premiered the work on the 2009 Bang on a Can Marathon in New York.

Aside from his work as a steel drummer, he is an accomplished classical percussionist. He has degrees from the University of Hartford and the University of Akron and has studied with leading percussionists such as John Amira, Rogeria Boccato, Alexander Lepak, David Samuels, Larry Snider and Benjamin Toth. He performs regularly with several Connecticut orchestras

including the New Haven, Greater Bridgeport and Waterbury Symphonies. He currently serves on the part-time faculty of Keene State College, Central Connecticut State University, Holyoke Community College, Naugatuck Valley Community College, the Gunnery, and the Hartt School Community Division.

NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions was established in 1925. Since that time, Steinhardt Music and Performing Arts Professions has functioned as NYU’s “school” of music and developed into a major research and practice center in music technology, music business, music composition, film scoring, music performance practices, performing arts therapies, and the performing arts-in-education (music, dance, and drama). Today, 1,600 students majoring in renowned programs- baccalaureate through Ph.D.- are guided by more than 400 faculty who share The Steinhardt School’s spirit of openness and innovation. Faculty include international performing and recording artists, music business and technology leaders while others sit on leading journal editorial boards and publish some of the most significant music technology and performing arts research on the scene today. This depth and breadth of resources offers unparalleled opportunities for artistic, professional, and scholarly growth.  

We recognize that in addition to substantial training in individual specializations, our graduates require multiple skills.  To that end we encourage students to benefit from rich and varied courses throughout The Steinhardt School and the University. In addition, our campus is surrounded by and blends into the world’s capital and epicenter of the performing arts, New York City. Alumni have major performing careers and coveted professional positions in the music industry and in universities throughout the world. Prominent alumni include: jazz great Wayne Shorter, multiple Tony and Grammy Award winning music theatre composer and songwriter Cy Coleman, multiple Tony and Grammy Award winning lyricist Betty Comden, multiple Oscar winning film composer Elmer Bernstein, and Tony Award, Oscar and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and film writer John Patrick Shanley.   Dr. Robert Rowe, Director.

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