Carolyn Sacco

The St. Luke’s Steel Band brought the warmth of the Caribbean to an audience of 100 during a performance at Bethesda Lutheran Church on Sunday night.

The show, titled “A Symphony of Steel,” was the band’s second appearance at the church. The 17-member band played classical favorites like Pachelbel’s Canon, but also incorporated modern songs, like “Vivir Mi Vida” by Marc Anthony and “My Girl” by The Temptations, into their set. All the proceedings from the concert were given to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, an organization that runs refugee resettlement programs in New Haven.

“To bring the steel-pan into New Haven, is to expose the instrument and put the worth of the instrument,” said Kenneth Joseph, the director of the band. “The instrument can do multiple things and play any sort of genre. So we just expose people to what the instrument can do and get more recognition.”

According to Joseph, steel-pans began as a “poor man’s instrument,” as they allowed people who could not afford lessons in other instruments to make music. He has been playing the steel-pan since he was eight years old and received a master’s degree in pan performance from Northern Illinois University before taking a position as the St. Luke’s Steel Band director.

The band began as a project at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in New Haven. Since beginning with a set of used steel-pans, the band has grown to perform at St. Luke’s Episcopal services regularly, even collaborating with composer Andy Akiho MUS ’11 on a concert in the Yale School of Music’s 2010 Duke Ellington Concert Series.

At the concert, Joseph introduced each type of steel-pan to the audience and explained the importance of the instruments, emphasizing the wide range of the steel band. Though Pachelbel’s Canon is the most challenging piece for the band to play, Joseph said, it is important to show that a steel band can play multiple genres.

The performance received positive reactions from church community members, who danced to the songs in the aisles and sang along to the reggae and pop music.

Concert attendee Molly Dinneen said she was excited to see St. Luke’s Steel Band for a second time, and she thought it was a wonderful program to do in the area.

“When we invited this ensemble here, I was just blown away,” said Margaret Astrup, a member of the church.

The outreach coordinator from Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, Ashley Makar, was also present at the concert and stressed the importance of donations to the organization’s daily operations. She highlighted some of its recent work, including a mother-child English class and a partnership with New Haven nonprofit organization Music Haven, where refugee children have the chance to learn violin.

“It is only with the support of the church that IRIS has been able to weather this time,” Makar said. “This is certainly a time where we rely all the more so on community support.”

Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services was founded in 1982.

Carolyn Sacco |