Vēnērunt, vīdērunt, vīcērunt - They came, they saw, they conquered. Looking back a little over one year ago, it was indeed by the fifth thunderous standing ovation any doubt the organizers of this historic event may have had about the musical prowess of St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra, and its ability to endear itself to, enchant and ‘wow’ the widely diverse audience which had assembled at the hall on this evening, were completely obliterated. St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra had just captured the majestic Carnegie Hall in New York. Moreover the power, magic and beauty of a steel orchestra was on full display.
Upon being asked by When Steel Talks, what she thought of the group’s performance and how it was received - Deborah Lee Gibbs, President & CEO World Projects called the orchestra’s performance “spectacular.”
Upon further inquiry from When Steel Talks - Kathryn Shaw (Festival Manager) of World Projects responded to our questions.
- 1) How and why was St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra chosen for this performance?
- 2) What did you think about their performance and how it was received by the audience?
Kathryn Shaw - World Projects is an international festival production and performance tour company that specializes in music travel for young musicians and performing ensembles. We receive many applications and auditions each year from ensembles wishing to perform on stage at Carnegie Hall as part of our festivals. Among the applicants this year was the St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra, a youth steel drum band from Trinidad and Tobago. St. Margaret’s was selected to perform as part of the New York Sounds of Summer International Music Festival due to their established excellence in the music world, their unique contribution to the music education community, and their recognized presence in the steel drum universe. As the festival manager, it was a pleasure working with their directors in the lead up to the festival and on the ground in New York. Through their rehearsal at Carroll Studios and performances at Liberty Science Center and Carnegie Hall, one could easily see the thoughtful work that has gone into creating the energy that this ensemble brings to the stage.
Their performance at Carnegie Hall was phenomenal. It was truly an honor to watch them perform with such passion and we are very proud to have helped facilitate this achievement. The audience was elated to have such a unique ensemble on stage and the end of every piece was met with wild applause. We also had the privilege of hosting the Consulate General of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in New York in the audience. Mrs. Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam and her staff were present and very excited to be there in support of the young musicians who had traveled such a long way.
The St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra really brought a unique flavor to the Sounds of Summer Festival. We are so proud to have hosted them and wish them only the best in their future travels.
Also in attendance was the veteran successful steel band promoter Caldera Caraballo who also shared a few of his thoughts on the orchestra’s performance: To harmoniously unite these two different musical forms [classical and calypso] is a difficult task that requires great versatility and technical skills of the performers as well as the conductor. The band was phenomenal and left a good impression.
In addition to St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra, performing at that June 17, 2015 evening concert in the Isaac Stern Auditorium were the Laguna Creek Winds and Three Rivers Young People Orchestra.
An Interview with St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra &
WST: St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra’s performance at Carnegie Hall was a momentous occasion. How was it for you?
Shenelle: Just knowing that we were coming to Carnegie Hall was such - just an honor. I think It really didn’t hit that we were at Carnegie Hall until they called our names on stage. And we were actually here. And that’s when everything just came out and it came together - emotions you can see - I think what happened on the Carnegie stage was you felt the emotions of the players.
WST: How did they respond to you after the performance?
Shenelle: I would say five standing ovations.
WST: Guys - how was the performance for you?
Several players: Superb, awesome!
WST: Have you performed in such a venue before?
Several players: Never.
WST: Did the trip meet your expectations?
A player: It exceeded it.
WST: What was most memorable for you?
Several players: The standing ovations.
WST: What has been the most surprising thing about the trip so far?
A player: The camaraderie that all the other performers showed at the show.
WST: Was it the first time that you interacted with another orchestra, that wasn’t a steel orchestra, in that manner?
Shenelle: Yes, and then also you rarely ever get to interact with an all-classical orchestra - so when they were exposed to all these different instruments - you know, they have this thing about classical musicians, that they are very uptight. But when they came among the boys (St. Margaret’s) - it was all over! They were learning choreography - we went on a Hudson River cruise with them)... They really appreciated us!
WST: Shenelle, how did your repertoire come together? You played five songs. How were they chosen?
Shenelle: What we decided to do - we have multiple songs and multiple types of songs. We wanted to expose the public to what pan can do. We started with a classical - “Coriolan Overture” and then we went into an R&B. We did “Pastime Paradise” by Stevie Wonder. And then we did “High Mas” - we needed to expose them to our calypso. And then we ended with a rock medley which was “Eye of the Tiger” and “Final Countdown.” Yes, we decided to put rock in the mix.
WST: What has the feedback been from people who attended the concert, organizers and others.... as well?
A player: It has been great. A lot of people who didn’t know what they were listening to—Trinidadians, as well—came up to us and said “Wow, great job! You represented very well - you put on a great show.” I think they had a pleasant surprise. They were not expecting us to be that good. We pretty much destroyed the entire performance.
WST: How long did you guys practice? How long did it take you guys to come together?
Shenelle: Six months. What happened is we had other concerts. So we have been practicing for the different concerts. We had one in April and then in May. So everything was just coming together for this show.
WST: How did St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra get chosen for this gig?
Shenelle: We have these Pan shows called extravaganzas where all the orchestras come together. And we have all these videos that Kenny Phillips did for us so I put together an audition tape and sent it to World Projects. World Projects is the organization in charge of all of this. And because they were never really exposed to pan like this, they were really kind of hesitant. So what I decided to do is put together our best moments in one minute, and then told them to “Just take one minute out of your day to just look at this clip and if you like it, you can watch the rest of it.”
WST: What was their response to the fact that there would be so many instruments to ship? Was that okay for them or was it a new experience?
Shenelle: It was a new experience because I don’t think they understood - they didn’t understand the steelpan. So when we first came and we had like four six-basses - when they saw the size of the instruments, it was an experience for them also.
WST: How many members in total in St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra?
Shenelle: That came? Thirty-five. We brought four six-basses, two triple cellos, four-pan, two guitars, two double tenors, two double seconds and nine tenors.
The last steel orchestras to come up here to perform at Carnegie from Trinidad and Tobago were Desperadoes in 1987 and North Stars/Sunjets in the 60s. So how does it feel to be the steel orchestra next in line behind such legendary steel orchestras from Trinidad and Tobago who have performed at Carnegie Hall? Because as you can tell from the wide gap - this really isn’t the norm - steel orchestra performances at Carnegie Hall.
Shenelle: It is still sinking in because it is not something you ever picture yourself as being that - that band that actually breaks the mold. You always want to, but when you achieve it.... the first band since 1987 - words can’t explain.
WST: So we’re talking twenty-eight years?
Shenelle: Yea, twenty-eight years.
Images provided by Shenelle Abraham
ST. MARGARET’S BOYS’ STEEL ORCHESTRA
Shenelle Abraham, Director
Trinidad & Tobago
The St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra originates from Belmont, which is a town on the outskirts of the capital city of Port of Spain, located in the country of Trinidad and Tobago, also referred to as the land of steel band and calypso. Our organization is an institution whose mandate is to increase proficiency in music theory and practical playing skills of the steel pan.
As our youths (whose ages range from 10 to 21), deal with our ever-changing society and need for instant gratification, we have witnessed a direct correlation between the progress of our steel pan program and their holistic development. They have demonstrated commitment, discipline, team work, empathy and social responsibility - and because of those qualities and our quest for excellence, we have had several achievements, some of which are:
- Finalist in Trinidad and Tobago Junior Panorama for the
past five (5) years.
- National Junior Steel band Musical Festival Winner in the Solo, Duet and Quartet categories and runner up in the Orchestra category
- Represented Trinidad and Tobago in Guadeloupe, Mexico and California
- Received the Sir Ellis Clarke (former President of Trinidad and Tobago) Award and the NYAC (National Youth Action Committee) award for the ‘Top Twenty Stars of Tomorrow’
- Participated in Florida Memorial University Youth Steel Band Festivals
We are truly honored to be performing at this prestigious Carnegie Hall, and this is the ultimate reward for our hard work and dedication.
Shenelle Abraham has lived upon the philosophy “Greatness finds the one reason to make the impossible, possible.” Born in the beautiful tropical island of Trinidad, you can see her pursuit of this philosophy throughout her life by her continuous hunger for greatness.
From age seven, challenged by the words of people saying “You are too young to write your own song,” she rose to the occasion by not only writing her own song, but performing it on a grand stage to the masses. She started playing the piano at age six. During her tenure at primary school, she had been a “straight ‘A’” student who always placed first in her class, represented her school in singing calypso (a Trinidadian type of song), sang in choirs, swam, played cricket, and still had time to play the piano.
However by age ten this was not enough for her. Inspired by watching the greatest panists of all time, she decided to play the steelpan. She went on to be very successful in the steelpan world, holding many solo, duet, and quartet titles, leading a novel junior steel orchestra to win several Junior Music Festival titles and a Senior World Steelband Festival title, and playing for several steel orchestras, including the top orchestras in Trinidad: Exodus Steel Orchestra and Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra. Throughout her thriving musical success, she still managed to represent her secondary school in swimming, captained her school’s cricket team, tutored music classes at her alma mater, and still ranked academically at the top of her class.
She received a scholarship to Florida Memorial University where she declared a double major in mathematics and music, and was able to leave a lasting impression. She performed at the MTV Video Music Awards alongside Ludacris and represented her university in several mathematics presentations. Eventually she became the valedictorian and graduated summa cum laude.
After university, she still strived to better herself. She led her band, St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra—which she was involved in since its inception—to win many titles, became the President’s and National Award recipients, and toured all over the world. She received two National Awards, became the first and youngest female to lead a senior steel orchestra with 120 members to a Senior Trinidad and Tobago National Panorama Competition, and has been featured in many newspapers, magazines, and websites.
Currently she is the head of the mathematics program at the SEED school of Miami and musical director of St. Margaret’s Boys’ Steel Orchestra. Shenelle Abraham says that her quest to better herself is not over but has only now begun, and she will not stop trying until she achieves her highest potential.
Special thanks to Menthol Trinidad Ltd. which underwrote the cost of this trip, and the friends of St. Margaret’s who made it possible.
Nicole Blake, Cheryl Pereira, Jovani Julicn-Highly, Melissa Cudjoe, Nkosi James, Akeem Henry, Deborrah Abraham, Kyle Blake-James, Carel Taylor, Shurmin Jolien, Jonah La Croix, Nicholas Deabreau, Ekka Mc Fee, Daniel Cudjoe, Kerwyn Scipio, Kurt Abraham, Paul Jones, Akeil George, La Verne George, Shari-Lee Davis, Mickel Pierre, Michael George, Kerry Baptiste, Aquila Pereira, Rosemarie Khan-Abraham, Keon Baptiste Christopher Mungal, Shenelle Abraham, Hakim Goodridge, Shaquille Noel, Michelle Hall, Jaheem Sandiford, Garth Sinnette, Beverley Ambris-Bateau, Nkosi Griffith, Timothy Matthews, Keiron Baptiste, David Yundi, Curtly Bateau, Daphne Chrysostom-Griffith, Jadien Johnson, Kirtis Bateau, Abby Thomas-Floyd, Jabez Joseph, Akeem Larrier, Kizzy De Leon, Elijah Beckles, Kia Mc Kain, Tandy Johnson, Deashewn Derrell, Jemma Jordan, Kerneil Scipio