Free steelpan classes offered in Brooklyn

Students of Tropical Fete Ensemble with thier parents.
Photo by Tangerine Clarke

The eagerness on the faces of young pan enthusiast was evident, as the children of Caribbean nationals practiced under the watchful eye of 24-year-old instructor Ashley Murray, an arranger and former captain of her Tobago High School Steel Pan group.

When Caribbean Life stopped by the Prospect Heights Complete Music Studios last Saturday, the newly enrolled students were fine-tuning selections for an Oct. 25, French Creole Festival, where they will perform French music, and pieces by Machel Montano.

Seven-year-old Kezia Sealy, who wowed an audience at the Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence celebration in New York recently with hymns “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” excelled at the free classes which started last spring. Her mother Marlene Johnson-Sealy said Kezia who played the keyboard from age three, and is a violin player, immediately grasped the complex notes of the pan, and after four sessions performed live.

Johnson-Sealy says she is ready to invest in a steelpan for Kezia, who shows great promise of become a star steel pan player.

Little Michael Holder can hardly reach up to play the pan his Trinidad grandfather played with Starlift Steel Orchestra back in the day in Trinidad, but his mother Kifana Hinkson said she jointed him up in the sessions that he enjoys every Saturday.

Claudette Norcisse’s daughter Octavia joined the classes, and one week later, she performed a Bob Marley classic at the St. Lucia House, an amazing accomplishment, all due to the bloodline of Caribbean culture that runs deep in the veins of the youngsters.

Thanks to founder and CEO of Tropical Fete, Alton Aimable, the culture will live for generations to come, through initiatives such as the steelpan classes that engage the community youth.

Aimable started the Tropical Fete Ensemble after calling for kids to register for the free sessions. He said as part of the program, the students would learn to play the pan, be introduced to the history of the steel pan, and learn music theory.

Students also viewed “A Pan Odyssey,” a documentary that showcased the history of steelpan music.

The two-hour session which starts at 11 am every Saturday in the lower level of the Complete Music Studios at 227 St. Marks Ave., is a cultural initiative facilitated by NY Council Member Darlene Mealy of Community Board 41, and conducted by Tropical Fete Incorporated. The program is also supported by the New York City Department of Cultral Affairs.

Aimable, a strong advocate for promoting culture and arts in the Caribbean community said it is challenging to find space for steel pan rehearsals due to the many components that make up the orchestra, and thanked the city for funding the program. He also thanked instructors Ricardo Greenway and Crystal Rawlins.

“Music opens the minds of people and I want to see Caribbean music move away from regular productions to the stage of Carnegie Hall.This is the reason the students will be trained in all genres of music,” said Aimable. “They must also reach professional standards to be able to benefit financially from the art form,” he added.

In addition to recitals and award presentations from which the students will benefit from the program, they will also be taught the business aspect of music such as preparation of performance contracts in order to become marketable.

“Someone outside should be able to come into the community and say this is a talent we could incorporate into what we are doing,” said Aimable, whose passion and drive come from his love of the Caribbean culture.

“It gives me great joy to share the culture. Creativity opens up one’s mind, I love creativity,” he added.

The free classes are open to kids and all others. For more information, call 646-504-3383 or send email to [email protected]tropicalfete.com.

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