The Steel Drum, It’s a Beautiful Thing

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They’re usually associated with Bob Marley and the island culture of Trinidad and Tobago, but the calypso sounds emanating from a classroom at The Hamilton-Madison House are made by Asian hands.

Hamilton-Madison is nestled within the Gov. Alfred E. Smith Houses in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Manhattan. For more than six years, the House ran a music school offering affordable private violin and piano lessons to the residents of the community. For those years, the Asian community overwhelmingly used the music school.

Hoping to reach more black and Latino budding-musicians — who make up almost 56 percent of the community — the executive director suggested introducing a steel pan class.

The result wasn’t what anyone expected — a year and a half later, the Hamilton-Madison House steel pan band, like the general music school, is still overwhelmingly Asian.

While no one is complaining about the calypso, the staff at Hamilton-Madison still labors to appeal to young people from different backgrounds. If anything, there is a realization that the rise of this steel drum band offers a valuable lesson in the spreading and sharing of culture, as well as a demonstration of just what a quirky, and enduring, melting pot New York City can be.

Want to see some New York quirkiness? Watch: It’s a Beautiful Thing: Two Bridges, Two Cultures and the Steel Pan:


Christine Streich is a reporter from the New York Bureau.


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