Student Steel Drum Band Brings Tropical Vibes to New Haven

Making the Grade Steel Drums Edited.JP

With cold weather beginning to encroach upon Connecticut, you may begin to dream about staying somewhere a little more tropical. While students at a New Haven high school can’t change the weather, they are hoping to make the journey musically.

A Caribbean orchestra initially established for a Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven musical transformed into stand-alone club made up mostly of students who play other instruments. The “Broken Chains Steel Drum Band," as noted in the name, prominently features the Caribbean’s most distinctive musical instrument.

Band Director Patrick Smith thinks the drums are a great way for students to branch out from their regular instruments

“They have to apply physical skills they would learn playing a sport, because it is a very physical instrument," Smith said. "And, the cross over from their regular instruments is pretty obvious because they're reading the same notes."

Students are very enthusiastic about the unique instruments including Sophomore Jose Ayala:

“I just like the music, the way it sounds….It sounds nice, the pan itself.”

Senior Michael Gritzbach also finds an emotional connection to the music.

“What’s going through my head is obviously hitting the right notes, but also being able to feel where the notes are," Gritzbach said.

The equipment is not cheap. Each steel drum costs around $1,000, but generous grants and gifts have allowed the students to escape to the tropics even though in actuality, they are located some 2,000 miles north of the Caribbean.

Kjerstin Pugh, the school’s director of after-school programming believes the club provides a unique cultural experience, in addition to a musical one:

“It brings students from all different backgrounds and profiles together," she said. "And, they learn about Trinidad and Caribbean music and also just doing something together that is really unique.”

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