New York - There have been many, many great musical moments in the history of New York and this past Friday another great moment occurred at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music (MSM). Indeed, the institution has a ninety-year history of music-making in New York City.
New York may always be known as Bradley’s town - so named after the late great master arranger - but on this Friday night in upper Manhattan, the Big Apple belonged to Andy Akiho and his superb collection of talented fellow musicians. Moreover, the music and performances on this evening at the MSM blazed a new path and understanding for the steelpan instrument as part of the institution’s revolutionary Master of Music Contemporary Performance Program.
Billed as “Synesthesia Suite” - Works for Steel Pan with jazz combo and chamber orchestra - Andy Akiho successfully delivered a collection of music that redefined the accepted norm and conventional thinking of not only music for the steelpan instrument, but more importantly the context in which the instrument is viewed and used. By incorporating a series of techniques Andy was able to coax tones and responses from the instrument that lead, complimented or supported the accompanying performers as desired.
From solo performances to jazz and chamber orchestra, for just over an hour, Akiho paired and married the steelpan instrument in an eclectic body of work that featured his own original compositions, which were both deeply personal and moving. Although Andy is youthful in age he has clearly mastered the art of musical storytelling. His voicings and harmonies are distinctive but essential to creating the movements that are fundamental to this group of instrumental works that are based on colors.
Ironically one of the people who contributed greatly to Akiho’s development, guitarist and arranger Scipio “Skip” Sargeant, passed away only last week. The show and one of the songs entitled ‘Momo Iro (Pink) - Quartet for Steelpan, Acoustic Guitar, Bass and Drumset’ - was created specifically with Sargeant as inspiration.
In light of the fact that New York has the largest and most vibrant steelpan community outside of Trinidad and Tobago, it seems only natural that the MSM would develop a premičre program that would nurture and further develop natural talents - the likes of Andy Akiho, who now graduates MSM with his Master of Music degree. This young musician is well on his way to becoming one of the most significant young composers of music that is either for, or incorporates the steelpan instrument.
Manhattan School of Music is an established conservatory for all of ninety-one years - mentoring and honing the skills of many of the world’s most promising talents on the music artistry scene. With the backdrop of New York’s urban lifestyle, the school has stepped outside the box with its curriculum as boldly as do those who are part of the New York scene, with the addition of the Contemporary Performance Program to its instruction line-up. For 2009, twelve of the overall twenty-two young musicians who are dead set on making their musical mark in the world - graduate MSM’s halls. Percussionist/Pan Player Andy Akiho is one of that dozen; and after the two-year presence of this young musical genius-in-waiting, the practice rooms of MSM will never be the same.
But that is what MSM intended when it trail-blazed and unveiled this unique masters degree program. New York is a constantly evolving social landscape, teeming with the anticipation of inventiveness and creativity waiting to be revealed, and it is onto this canvas of pregnant possibility and viability, that MSM is now projecting its musical progeny, by unhesitatingly providing them the medium of educational faculty (world-recognized performing artists in their own right) resources, guidance and inspiration - buttressed with MSM’s tradition of intellectual and musical excellence - to make their mark.
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