Walking down Spring Street on Sunday afternoon, one may have heard enchanting beats, rhythms, and harmonies coming from the third floor of Lasell. These unorthodox, yet mesmerizing melodies were the sounds of the Caribbean American Sports and Cultural Youth Movement’s (C.A.Y.S.M.) upbeat and amazingly talented Caribbeat Steel Orchestra. After playing Currier club on Saturday night and receiving stellar reviews from delighted dancers and spectators, this group of skilled, young musicians conducted a steel drum workshop and presentation in Lasell Dance Studio this past Sunday. Both performances and the information session were sponsored by SoCA (Students of Caribbean Ancestry) as a grand finale for Caribbean week.
The Orchestra maintained a high level of musical organization and composure throughout the workshop. Their most appealing attribute was their lively performing style. While playing, members of the orchestra would dance in unison, sing, jump up and down, twist their drumsticks in their hands, and even throw drumsticks up in the air and continue playing without missing a beat. That they were having a great time performing and were always smiling encouraged the audience to get involved in the production and do the same.
The presentation began with a traditional, Caribbean steel drum number, whose charm and unique sound immediately grasped the attention of everyone present. However, the Caribbeat Steel orchestra wanted to demonstrate that steel pan music has a wide variety of capabilities which range far beyond traditional Caribbean tunes. To portray their versatility, they played songs varying from Handel’s classic “Messiah,” and the passionate “Amazing Grace,” to Richie Valens’ uptempo dance ditty “La Bamba,” UB40’s reggae remix of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.” Members of the audience were invited down from the bleachers and taught to play Buster Pointdexter’s “Hot, Hot, Hot,” and with help from the orchestra, this version ended up sounding even better than the 80’s hit.
The steel drum is the only instrument that was invented in the 20th century. A steel pan orchestra is composed of five different kinds of drums which are all originally made out of fifty-five gallon oil barrels. The tops of the drums are pounded in with hammers to create a concave shape. This shape enables the drums to be tuned and produce notes and chords. Tenor drums are the smallest in the orchestra and produce a high pitched sound that usually leads the melody; they sound much like the notes played on an electric keyboard. Double tenors are somewhat larger than tenors and produce a lower pitched tone. Double second drums play chords, therefore functioning, although not sounding, like a guitar. Cello drums, made up of three half-cut oil barrels, at times play melodies and at times chords, they have the deepest pitch excluding the bass drums. A set of bass drums is composed of six fifty-five-gallon oil barrels. The C.A.S.Y.M. orchestra consisted of seven tenor drums, two double tenors, double seconds, cello drums and two sets of bass drums.
C.A.S.Y.M. is a nonprofit organization based in New York whose goal is to provide young people with a place where they can pursue positive recreational activities in the hopes that these skills will keep them away from drugs and teach them responsibility. The members of the Carribeat Steel Orchestra are mostly high school students, although their ages varied from fourteen to twenty-eight. They have all been playing in the orchestra for at least three years, and most for about six or seven years. When introducing themselves, they all expressed how much academics meant to their lives and how important a good education was to their future ambitions. When one girl was asked what the criteria were for being in the orchestra she replied “an open mind and good grades.”
The Carribeat Steel Orchestra charmed all those who heard them in Lasell and Currier Club with their maturity, lively performing style, and high level of musical ability. They were an exciting way for SoCA to conclude Caribbean week.