Successful steel drums program continues to develop

Mar 6, 2020 | Culture, Music, News

On Feb. 16, 19 students and five chaperones from the steel drum band boarded a flight to St. Lucia to practice and learn from Andy Narell, a world-renowned steel drum musician. Led by music director of 16 years, Jim M., this is the latest step in the immense expansion of the steel drum program.

In the past, the steel drum band has traveled Trinidad, observing and taking in its beautiful musical festivals but this year, with an invitation from Jim’s long-time friend and role model Andy Narell, the band headed east to St. Lucia, Laborie. 
In addition to frequent trips to the glorious beaches, hiking mountains, and visiting sugar plantations, the band practiced three to four hours a day.

 “Although it was a little tiring at times, it was so cool to see firsthand how he was able to observe and fine-tune things (since he knew the music so well), and it was super gratifying to see how much we improved by the end of the trip,” said Anoushka K. ’23. 

During the sessions, usually from 4–8 p.m., Narell helped them get their songs up to tempo, refine the notes, and nail down the phrasing. 

From a single middle school academy elective to a broadening and continuously successful program, the steel drums program has developed into a leading student group.  Although many schools are starting to develop steel drums programs, not many are doing it at the level that Jim and his students are. 

It was a really cool opportunity for us to learn from a professional.

Megan B. '23

“What I love about these guys [the students] is that they are really committed to what we’re doing,” said Jim. “Everyone is enthusiastic about it and everybody wants to play.” 

“If I could describe Jim in three words they would be hardworking, funny, and iconic,” said Megan. 

All this practice isn’t for nothing though as the band has spent hours and hours preparing for the Nueva steel drums program’s biggest concert yet. On March 25, the band will perform at the San Francisco Jazz Center side-by-side with Narell and David Rudder, a famous Trinidadian singer. 

“Every minute we spend is getting ready for this concert,” Jim said. Nueva’s steel drum band will be the first steel band ever to perform at San Francisco Jazz. 

The concert will feature all of Nueva’s steel bands, from kindergarten to upper school, and they will perform three original compositions by Narell: Coffee Street, Song for Mia, and Dee Mwa Wee. 

“Playing with Andy Narell and David Rudder is like basketball training with Steph Curry and Klay Thomspon. These men are the best there is,” Jim said.

“I’m excited that we’ll be able to get new exposure and perform in front of such a large audience, and I think that it’ll be a super rewarding and memorable experience for all of us,” Anoushka said.