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Standing O for Kendall Williams, Josh Quillen and CrossFire Steel Orchestra at Princeton University

Princeton Department of Music World Percussion Series

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Department of Music at Princeton

Princeton, New Jersey, USA - On an early cool Spring day Brooklyn, New York-based Crossfire Steel Orchestra took to the road and headed south for a command performance at Princeton University.  This concert was presented as  part of the World Percussion Series under the auspices of the prestigious Princeton Department of Music.

The outstanding musical talents of Kendall Williams (musical director of CrossFire and current doctoral candidate at Princeton University), & Josh Quillen of Sō Percussion—the current Edward T. Cone Performers-in-Residence—were featured, in addition to CrossFire Steel Orchestra. They received multiple standing ovations.

Watch performances from concert

The Princeton audience was treated to a wide and varied array of music genres that tantalized, astonished, educated, entertained  and challenged their musical sensibilities and expectations. In addition to being introduced to a portion of Trinidad and Tobago’s music culture and  traditions, the attendees were taken on a musical journey that explored the genius, musical changes, history, growth and adaptations of the steelpan instrument family, its people and music Trinbagonians have experienced, produced and contributed worldwide as they trekked the world.

The ability to conquer their environment—regardless of its harsh realities—and transform it into an art form of beauty - all the while telling and documenting their story via an orchestra of such unique instruments - yet simultaneously sincerely embracing all, was clearly on display.

Crossfire Steel Orchestra at Princeton University
Kendall Williams, Josh Josh Quillen and Crossfire Steel Orchestra at Princeton University

Kendall Williams and Josh Quillen did an exceptional job at explaining and showcasing the HD realities and, inventiveness, intellect, and moreover indomitable spirit of the pan player - from the birth of the instrument in World War II colonial Caribbean Trinidad and Tobago - to the often repressive concrete jungle of Brooklyn, New York. Their overcoming all these obstacles to reaffirming their culture, humanity with talent, creativity and a musical voice that fosters rich positive attitudes and touches the soul - was witnessed by the look of wonderment and appreciation on the faces of the audience from young children to elderly adults.

The visual of CrossFire reenacting and performing the period piece “Steel Band Clash” with instruments of that period was very powerful. It not only allowed the audience to immediately experience the historical circumstances, sound and emotions of the moment, but also facilitated their instantaneous appreciation of the competitiveness, inventive genius, drive for excellence and foundation upon which the modern steel orchestra stands.

Josh Quillen’s solo performance of “Nuff Respect” by David Rudder on the Second Pan went beyond his inspiring skill set and musicianship, as it showcased the universality of music, message, instrument and the seductive nature of steelpan. Indeed, so many in the audience were captured by its legendary hypnotic effect - while hearing only this instrument in this format for the very first time - while still remaining very appreciative. Josh’s performance belies the degree of difficulty in commanding this level of performance. The steelpan instrument is very easy to get sound out of - but very, very hard to master.

Kendall Williams, Josh Josh Quillen and Crossfire Steel Orchestra at Princeton University
On stage CrossFire Steel Orchestra at the
Princeton Department of Music World Percussion Series

The blossoming and continued growth of Kendall Williams as a composer, director, musician and leader continues to manifest real time in front of us. He steps over the boundaries with his compositions and arrangements, while holding on to his native heritage traditions that validate and authenticate his works without compromise. His arrangement of the classic “Ah Goin’ an’ Party Tonight” by the iconic master composer/arranger Clive Bradley, was brilliant. Williams’ ability to re-tool, re-fit and reinterpret even the distinguished standards without the slightest diminishing of the original works in the slightest, and presenting them to a new world audience in a manner that is both intriguing and complementary to the original musical works - speaks volumes.

CrossFire Steel Orchestra - young, gifted, intelligent and industrious, with an unapologetic Brooklyn “can-do” attitude - displayed their wide comfort zone with any age, genre or style of music. They are natural performers who enjoyed presenting their music showcase as much as their audience did. CrossFire is the brain-child of their director Martin Douglas.

This Princeton University Department of Music initiative was exceptional and greatly successful. Simply put, the performances of Josh Quillen, Kendall Williams and CrossFire Steel Orchestra brought a living, breathing and thoughtful reality, beyond the narrative and prime directive of the World Percussive Series.

Taplin Auditorium in Fine Hall
CrossFire Steel
Kendall Williams Musical Director Orchestra
Josh Quillen of Sō Percussion

MisConception Kendall Williams
Ah Goin’ an Party Tonight Clive Bradley/ Arr. Kendall Williams
Afro-Confusion Kendall Williams
Mess Around Michael Kernahan
She’s a Bad Mamma Jamma/Get Lucky Medley STEVIE WONDER/DAFT PUNK
Sealed With a Kiss PETER UDELL & GARY GELD
Just Smile Kendall Williams
What do you see? Kendall Williams
Steel Band Clash LORD BLAKIE 
Steel Band Times ANDRE TANKER
Calypso Music DAVID RUDDER
Hot and Groovy MILITANT

About the Performers

CrossFire Steel Orchestra:
Kendall Williams, Musical Director
Fayola Bartlett, Double Tenor
Matthew Best, Cello
Arielle Chase, Double Tenor
Giselle Desir, Tenor
Martin Douglas
Zeandre Douglas, Tenor
Keifer Dover, Guitar
Jerry Guy, Rhythm Section
Nadia Joseph, Tenor Bass
Judah, Double Tenor/
Double Seconds
Luz Carime Santa Coloma,
Double Seconds
Russell Fisher, Tenor
Sciyahn Koonkoon, Tenor
Alexis Schloss, 6 Bass
Warren Webster, 7 Bass

Located in the heart of East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Crossfire Steel Orchestra aims to educate young people of Caribbean and non-Caribbean backgrounds about the art form of the steel pan. Founded by Martin Douglas in 1999, the orchestra is committed to making a positive impact on the character of community youth, developing self-esteem, and passing on a tradition of achievement and success. The ultimate goal of this organization is to create an environment that fosters outstanding citizenship within our community and in turn, the nation .The Orchestra has performed throughout the Tri- State Area and various parts of the United States, including a standout performance at “The Inauguration of New Bishops” at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan. It also participates consistently in New York City’s annual West Indian- American Day Carnival, placing first in the 2001 carnival’s “Best Playing Band” competition with a winning piece arranged by one of Crossfire’s young members, Sundiata King.

Kendall Williams, Josh Josh Quillen and Noriko Manabe
Prof. Noriko Manabe, Josh Quillen, Martin Douglas, Kendall Williams, Arielle Chase

Having been born around the Trinidadian culture, Kendall Williams has adopted the country’s national instrument, the steel pan. From as early as the age of four, Kendall made efforts to mimic his parents as they displayed their talents in a Miami- based steel band. It wasn’t long before his efforts turned into a reality as he developed his skills and passion for the instrument. As he got older his passion brought out a connection to music and he was able to perform with large, world-renowned steel bands in Trinidad and Tobago as well as bands in the New York City scene for years and counting. He took things a step further when he graduated from Florida Memorial University with a BA in Music under the direction of Dr. Dawn Batson, with his main instrument being the steel pan. He continued to further his studies at NYU Steinhardt, where he pursued a Masters of Music Degree in Music Theory & Composition, studying with Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and Rich Shemaria. There he also actively participated in the NYU Steel band under the leadership of Artist Faculty member Josh Quillen. As he moved closer to graduating, his goals included composing and arranging music that could further showcase the steel pan for the virtuous instrument it is, while bringing his unique style to more conventional instruments known today. Now that he has graduated, he aggressively pursues a career as a composer, arranger, and advocate for the steel pan instrument. He works to open people’s minds to the possibilities steel pan can offer the world by showing that the instrument is more versatile than it may seem. Kendall is currently the musical director for Brooklyn based steel band Crossfire Steel Orchestra teaching them everything from music theory right down to discipline. In addition, he is also currently a doctoral candidate in Music Composition at Princeton University. There he studies with Dan Trueman, Steven Mackey, Dmitri Tymockzo. and Sõ Percussion to name a few.

Josh Quillen has forged a unique identity in the contemporary music world as all- around percussionist, expert steel drum performer (lauded as “softly sophisticated” by The New York Times), and composer. His collaborations with other composers frequently incorporate the steel drums as a core element. A member of the acclaimed ensemble Sõ Percussion since 2006, Josh has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Lincoln Center Festival, Stanford Lively Arts, and dozens of other venues in the United States. Sõ Percussion has also toured Russia, Spain, Australia, Italy, Germany, and Scotland. He has had the opportunity to work closely with Steve Reich, Steven Mackey, Paul Lansky, David Lang, Matmos, Dan Deacon, and many others. Josh started performing on the steel drums at Dover High School in Ohio, an interest that continued at the University of Akron, where Dr. Larry Snider founded one of the first collegiate steel bands in the United States. He traveled to Trinidad & Tobago in 2002, performing with the Phase II Pan Groove ensemble under Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. This interest in the traditional steel drum music of Trinidad ran in parallel with Josh’s education in western music, first at Akron, and then at the Yale School of Music with marimba soloist Robert Van Sice, where he received his Masters Degree in 2006. These parallel interests led Josh to break ground in the use of the steel drums in contemporary classical music. To date, he has commissioned over a dozen pieces for steel drums from composers such as Stuart Saunders Smith, Roger Zahab, Dan Trueman, and Paul Lansky. In 2010, Steven Mackey’s quartet It Is Time - commissioned for Sõ Percussion by Carnegie Hall and Chamber Music America - featured Josh on a new microtonal lead pan in its Carnegie Hall premiere, receiving rave reviews in The New York Times.

Department of Music at Princeton
 2014-2015 SEASON
 Steven Mackey, Chair
 Marilyn Ham, Department Manager
 Gregory Smith, Academic Programs Manager
 Cynthia Masterson, Office Assistant

Michael Pratt, Director
Dr. Anthony D.J. Branker, Associate Director
Gabriel Crouch, Associate Director
 Marna Seltzer, Director
 John Burkhalter, Subscription Manager
 Deborah Rhoades, Accounts Manager
 Catherine Ugolini, Marketing & Outreach Manage
 Henry Valons, Production Manager
 Andrés Villalta, Audio Specialist
 Jeremiah LaMontagne, Technical Support Specialist
 Jeffrey Snyder, Technical Director


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