Feel the steel: Bed-Stuy’s Steel Drum Symphony

Summer is here and the perfect music for a hot and humid New York is definitely the steel drum. I like mine as Soca and Reggae, and that’s just how USA San Juan East Side Symphony does it. Born out of a band from Trinidad of the same name, the East Side Symphony has been rocking out Brooklyn for three years now. They have a huge reputation to keep up: their home-country and namesake ensemble are taking home the trophies at steel pan competitions back in the Caribbean. But here on the mainland, the East Side Symphony plans on doing a lot more than just competitions.

Symphony President Roderick Cupid explains that they have a vision as a community center and youth education facility in the neighborhood: “as a non-profit, we see ourselves as a major part of the community. We want to be a fixture here on Fulton and act as a community center, helping our youth stay off the streets” Mr. Cupid says with a huge grin. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, they have positioned themselves as just that. The Brooklyn-based East Side Symphony has been jamming for three years now, but has recently acquired a vacant store-front on Fulton Street here in Bed-Stuy with the help of financial support from local businesses like Melanie’s Juice Bar and Restaurant. “We have been lucky to get the support of business owners like Michael Goul [of Melanie’s Restaurant],” continued Mr. Cupid, “but we need more help from local businesses to continue to be a major part of the community and grow.”

The East Side Symphony has 15 regular members and cover Soca, Reggae, and even Pop songs from the likes of Michael Jackson and John Lennon. Made from oil drums and steel pans, the Symphony is made up of tens of differently-tuned “instruments” such as bass, guitars, and cellos. Tuned by hammering the steel into different panels, these complex instruments have an amazing and unique sound that can transport you thousands of miles to a tropical paradise.

Written on the sea-foam green walls are quotes about living a life full of love and respect for fellow humans. As Mr. Cupid spoke with me, Isaac and Norris are practicing their scales on a ‘single pan tenor’ and ‘alto double seconds,’ the mallets pinging reverberations off of the vibrant drums. As the Symphony slowly gears up for future competitions, their main focus is on how to expand the community services provided by the organization. “It’s not just about steel drums,” Mr. Cupid explains, “we want to help the residents of this community learn new skills and have a place to meet their neighbors.” And I know they mean it too; as I start heading for the door, Isaac shakes my hand and asks when I will come back to pick up some mallets and join their symphony. I may just take them up on their offer…

Homebase for USA San Juan East Side Symphony is located at 1448 Fulton Street, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, NY. While Mr. Cupid told me that their website is not up and running quite yet, please connect with us at the BID and we can hook you up with their details if you are interested in joining up, getting lessons, or making a tax-deductible donation.

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Categories: Arts and Culture, Bed Stuy, Community Event, Fulton Street, Music, West Indian

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