Carnival Kids Steel Orchestra

History of the CKSO 

In 1972 Lancaster Middle School band director John Marone was in Albany in the Mall of the Capital Building.  Performing there was "Calliope's Childrens Steel Band" from Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York, under the direction of Mr. James Leyden.  In the audience that day was Ellie Mannette, who was both the close friend, drum manufacturer and tuner for Mr. Leyden.  Ellie Mannette lived in Queens, NY at that time. Mr. Marone was so intrigued by the sound of the steel drums, that he stayed and met the two giants of the early steel drum movement. 

John returned to Lancaster in hopes of starting a steel program here.  Unfortunately, there were no drums.  The first drums that Lancaster and Mr. Marone were able to obtain were from local musician, Mr. Bob Diaz.  These used drums included a set of five bass drums, a set of triple cellos, a double guitar, one or two double seconds and a single lead.  John Marone used these drums with some middle school students, and immediately named the Lancaster group, the Carnival Kids Steel Orchestra.  Mr. Marone knew in importance of “Carnival” both in Trinidad, and its relevance to the development of the steel drum. 

As John’s students went to the high school in 1974, the group naturally became a high school organization.  This is the date that is used as the starting point to this day, and as so often been stated, makes our CKSO the third oldest established continuing steel drum program in the United States.  Mr. Marone worked both with high school students as the CKSO, and formed a separate training group of middle school students that was known as the cadet band. 

In 1976, Lancaster bought its first drums from Ellie Mannette.  Since then our CKSO has performed exclusively on Mannette steel drums.  The CKSO under the direction of John Marone became one of the busiest of all Lancaster organizations.  As it does today, the group performed from 24 - 30 times annually.  Some of the highlights of Mr. Marone’s years include a trip to Trinidad in 1978, the Worlds Fair in Knoxville in 1982, another trip to Trinidad in 1983, the first of our annual Island Nights at the Elks Club in 1984, a Gold Medal at the Hawaiian Festival of Music in 1985, a Gold Medal in 1987 in the Bahamas, a return to Hawaii in 1989 for a Bronze Medal, a Carnival Cruise in 1992, and a trip to Disney in 1998.   Other appearances included the CN Tower, Ontario Science Center, Kleinhans, M&T Plaza, the Toronto Winter Gardens, and two vinyl album recordings.  (Due to cargo restrictions, the group was unable to take drums to perform either time in Trinidad.)          

Our group was directed from September of 1998 until June of 2000 by current Lancaster music teacher Michael Morrissey and former CKSO performer and then Lancaster math teacher Joe Prisinzano.  Mr. Ed Calere ran the group the following year.  In late October of 2001 current director Ken Kowalski took over as leader of the group and continues in that position. 

Since 2001, the CKSO has performed at Dunn Tire Park and Niagara Square for the Buffalo Karibana festival, M&T Bank Series, Taste of Buffalo, Erie PA Amphitheatre, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, several television appearances, and in 2006 performed on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship “Enchantment of the Seas”.   The CKSO joined the Buffalo Sabres Alumni and performed for the Patty Parete Fundraiser at HSBC Arena in 2006.  In April of 2008 our students were awarded a first place trophy at Universal Studios in a national competition of steel drum bands.  Our CKSO is often seen as featured guest artists at many area town concerts.  Last May we shared the high school with Livingston Taylor.  We can boast three popular CDs with the release of Liv it Up! In April of 2009.   We even have our own website. 

Jim Leyden has since retired from teaching and along with Mark Slavine runs Hillbridge Music, specializing in music for steel drum.  Ellie Mannette was invited to a position by the University of West Virginia in Morgantown, where he taught, ran steel drums, and eventually opened Mannette Steel Drums.  After running the company for years, he continues to promote steel drums but is turning over operation of the factory to the next generation of manufacturers.  John Marone retired from teaching in 1998 and still lives in Lancaster.  Mike Morrissey teaches music at the William Street School.  Bob Diaz, along with Paul Ferrette still performs locally in the group “Caribbean Extravaganza”.  Joe Prininzano is a principal at Jericho High School in the New York City area.  Mr. Calere is thought to be teaching in the city of Buffalo.

History of the Steel Drum

During British Colonial rule of Trinidad in the 1800’s, hand drums were used as a call for neighborhood gangs to collect and “mash up” with the other gangs.  Hoping to curb the violence, the government outlawed hand drums in 1886.

Deprived of the drums, the Trinidadians turned to the "Tamboo Bamboo", where each member of the group would carry a length of bamboo and pound it on the ground as the group walked through the streets, producing distinctive rhythmic “signatures” which identified each gang. (The word “tamboo” if from the French “tambeau” or “drum.).  When two gangs met on a march, they would often pull out the machetes they had hidden inside the long bamboo poles, which solved none of the violence problems.

Soon, the government outlawed the bamboo bands as well.  Deprived of all traditional rhythmic instruments, the Trinis took any objects they could find, including garbage can lids, old car parts, and biscuit tins.  They used these “instruments” to form the Iron Bands, which marched down the streets playing the same distinctive rhythms.  These impromptu parades were called Iron Band.

The steel drum evolved out of an assortment of metal containers that produced a metallic sounds.  

Winston “Spree” Simon is generally credited with being the first person to put actual notes on a steel drum.  Originally the drums (also called “pans”) were convex, like a dome rather than a dish.  Ellie Mannette, a young teenager at the time, was the first to dish out a pan and give the steel drum its mature form. Over the years Ellie, the “Father of the Modern Steel Drum” has developed 7 of the 10 major forms of steel drum.  In 1941 he developed the concave bowl, in 1942 the first rubber playing mallets, and in 1946 was the first to use a 55 gallon drum, which is todays standard.  In 1967 Mr. Mannette moved to the United States to bring his Steel Drum vision to America.  He personally started many Steel Band programs.  He eventually settled in Morgantown, West Virginia and opened Mannette Steel Drums, and even today, Ellie and his staff produce and develop the finest instruments available.  In 1999 President Clinton awarded Ellie the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award for lifetime achievement.  In 2000, Ellie returned to his homeland of Trinidad for the first time in 33 years and received an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies. 

Back in Trinidad, the musical competitions which began to take place each year at Carnival quickly replaced the street fights.  There are still two competitions, one for the popular songs of the year, and a separate contest which showcases both the technical ability of each band and the versatility of the steel drum by presenting highly orchestrated classical pieces.  Fifty years after the first such contest, the rivalries between groups still exist, but manifest themselves in an excellent quality of musicianship among steel bands, rather than street gangs.

You can find some great history books on the steel band at www.panyard.com or www.mannettesteeldrums.com.



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