N.Y. steel band to ring in First Night

December 18, 1997|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's not an orchestra that Beethoven would recognize -- 50 people, ranging in age from 6 to 25, hammering out gospel, jazz, reggae and, yes Ludwig, even classical, music on steel drums.

CASYM -- which rhymes with "spasm" -- will ring in the new year in Annapolis with lyrical percussion from the Caribbean by way of Brooklyn, N.Y.

"We can play all kinds of music," said Jamil Findley, 17, the group's captain. "It just depends on the event. You watch it, and it's just fun."

The New York City group makes its Maryland debut at City Dock on Dec. 31 during First Night Annapolis, an annual festival of performing arts staged to welcome the new year.

CASYM, as in Caribbean-American Sports and Cultural Movement, will be inside a heated tent near the waterfront.

First Night Annapolis organizers say they were sold on the group by its infectious energy.

"They were absolutely wonderful -- and I see a lot of acts every year," said Lana Nelson, co-executive producer for First Night, who caught the drummers in New York's Wall Street district.

"I watched these jaded New Yorkers walking out of their buildings in business suits with briefcases in their hands, and they stopped dead in their tracks," she said. "Within minutes, everything they had was moving."

The group is a small part of the Caribbean-American Sports and Cultural Movement, founded in New York by Trinidad native William Jones as a summer soccer program in 1983. Dance classes and tutoring were added first, and in 1986 the steel orchestra joined. It has become the organization's most popular activity.

"We use the band now as a vehicle to recruit children," said Jones. "I am happy to say that the steel band is the thing that maintains their interest."

"If you don't make the grades, you can't play," said Cecilia Jones, the band's second in command. That rule helps account for this statistic: Ninety-eight percent of orchestra members graduate from high school and go on to college, leaders said.

The group has played at Lincoln Center, the New York governor's mansion, Apollo Theater in Harlem and at Harvard, Yale and Rutgers universities.

"We are the best steel band in Brooklyn," said Cecilia Jones. "No, we are the best in all of New York state."

Information about CASYM or other First Night acts: 410-280-0700.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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