Steelbands difficult search for practice space

Steel Xplosion performing at their band launch in Brooklyn.
William Farrington

If steelpan fans are having trouble finding their favorite bands there are reasons for it. Many steel bands scrambled to find outdoor rehearsal space, particularly in the Flatbush / Crown Heights neighborhoods to prepare for Panorma on Sept. 5 at the Brooklyn Museum.

CASYM, Metro Steel, Cossfire Steel Orchestra, Steel XPlosion, Harmony Music Makers, Despers USA, and Pantonic all have moved from the 2014 locations.

Recently CASYM began setting up their instruments in their new home, 8014 Preston Court between Ralph and E 83rd Street. (A seven- story, 80 unit residential complex is under construction at the Lenox Road location of CASYM’s 2014 camp.) Radoes camp is across the street and Crossfire found an adjoining lot in this industrial section of Canarsie adjacent to the Brooklyn Terminal Market. Pantonic Steel Orchestra, moved into a space on E 48th Street and Farragut, the dead end side, and held its yard opening Friday, Aug. 21 followed by a band launch Saturday. Bandleader Gwynn Glasgow says, “Its all been so rushed this year, only two weekends till Panorama.” Until recently, Pantonic was practicing at a Canarsie storage facility where they kept their instruments. Their space on Erasmus Street was no longer available. The band will compete with 60 – 80 youths ages 8 to 21.

Metro Steel Orchestra, on Empire Boulevard last year, found an empty lot on Sackman Street in East New York only to receive an eviction letter from the city weeks after setting up. Metro can now be found practicing on Caton Avenue between Flatbush and Bedford. Despite the hardships Bandleader Tony Joseph says, “It feels lovely to be back in Flatbush where 80 percent of our following live. We just have to adapt or fall by the wayside.”

Michael Joseph, Harmony Music Makers bandleader, says the the band has secured a space at 797 Sterling Place, between Rogers and Nostrand.

Despers USA can now be found on Pacific Street between Franklin and Classon. Steel Xplosion panyard is at 937 E 55th St.

Conversations with band leaders found consensus on two points:

Spaces available to rent for a few months in the summer, just cannot be found (noise complaints also contributed to a couple of bands moving).

A sense of dismay at the lack of support from public officials.

The muted sounds of steel pan being played can be heard most nights at the corner of Bedford and Snyder coming from the basement of the Get Set kindergarden. It is the winter practice location for the Crossfire Steel Orchestra and launching point of The Brooklyn Steel Orchestra (BSO) a band formed to represent New York in the International Panorama held in Trinidad Aug. 4 – 9. BSO finished fourth, the highest placing “foreign” band. On returning, musicians still gathered to play there while Crossfire bandleader Martin Douglas looked for outdoor practice space. Martin says the band is 80 strong with 50 – 60 neighborhood kids. “We are working to keep kids off the streets, we should look at scholarships or perhaps minimum wage for kids coming in to play.”

Monday evening Wayne Borde, a veteran steel pan and rhythm player watched as CASYM was setting up their instruments to practice. “If these kids didn’t have somewhere to go what would they be doing? Not every kid can go to summer camp, we need this. Why can’t the government support it, or if they can’t, at least don’t interfere.” As he spoke a NYPD helicopter hovered nearby, over E 93rd Street, a crime scene where two people had just been shot.

Curly of the Metro Steel Orchestra moving their instruments on short notice out of a vacant East New York lot they converted to a panyard.
William Farrington

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