“Sit back and relax,” said Kenneth Joseph, the musical director of St. Luke’s Steel Band. “Or dance, clap, and sing. Make them smile. They love to smile.”
Joseph was talking about his students from the St. Luke’s Steel Band and Music Haven summer camp students, just before the group launched into “Black or White.”
It was midway through “This Is It,” a concert of all Michael Jackson songs performed by a collaboration between St. Luke’s and Music Haven students to celebrate what has turned out to be the indelible legacy of the King of Pop, but deeper still, the rich, joy-filled sound that drums and strings can make together this past Friday afternoon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Whalley Avenue.
The concert was a testament to the dedication of the students to the music, and of Joseph and fellow instructions Debbie Teason (also steel pan), Colin Benn (strings), and Kareem Victory (percussion) to ensuring that their students succeeded, whether they were playing solo, in small groups, or all together.
Victory led his students in a drum demonstration.
Students conducted students.
When a cello needed to get to its player in the back of the string section, everyone lent a hand.
The concert picked up steam as St. Luke’s and Music Haven gave M.J.‘s greatest hits — “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” — a good workout. During “Thriller,” Benn took the mike to fill in for Vincent Price’s rap. The mike was quiet at first, but since half the audience knew it by heart anyway, it didn’t matter.
“I’ll do it for you,” said a woman in the audience, and joined in. By the time Benn got to the part about the funk of 40,000 years, at least a dozen voices were chanting along with him.
“I just want to say how exciting it is,” said Teason during a quick break before the finale, “that St. Luke’s Steel Band and Music Haven are taking their collaboration one step further.” She mentioned that many of the students in the steel pan group and many of the string players had started playing each other’s instruments, many for the first time.
Not that you would have noticed, as all the students played with drive, concentration, and real heart.
At the end of the program — a rendition of “We Are The World” — Joseph told the assembled audience that they would be cued to sing. “You won’t be able to help yourselves,” said Teason. And as soon as she turned to the audience, everyone in the church proved her right.