As Director of Steel Orchestras, Malika Green oversees CYSO’s four on-site steelpan ensembles, along with the new Neighborhood Steel program. In her 6th season with CYSO, she also serves as Community Engagement Coordinator, helping CYSO increase access to music for students and families across Chicago. We sat down with Green to learn more about her journey from pianist to steelpan performer to music educator.
How old were you when you began playing music?
Eight years old. I started on the piano and saw a steel band play at age 10 at a local festival. When I was 12, my parents sent to me to stay in Trinidad for a summer with my grandmother and they also enrolled me in a steel band camp. My grandmother spoiled me and purchased a double second steelpan (the alto voice) for me and when I returned to Maryland I never stopped playing! I also tried to quit piano but my parents were not about that life. It was a good thing because I played piano in college as well.
Did you always know you wanted to be a music educator?
I have always been someone who was a giver and supporting other towards their goals. I also mentored younger students in high school and college, but I never saw myself as an “educator.” I actually started college as a business major, and after feeling my soul shrivel up into a grape, I transferred to music. I did both my undergrad and Masters in performance and thought that I would tour the world at some point. I developed a passion for arranging and writing music for the steelpan, and at some points it trumped my passion for performance. After my Masters, I had the unique opportunity to work with my mother’s organization, The Cultural Academy for Excellence, as Artistic Director and Program Developer. The organization focused on encouraging students to do well in school by merging academic tutoring with excellence in the arts, specifically the steelpan. It was there that I realized my current purpose.
Learn to be engaged in your progress without being attached to an outcome.
What is your primary instrument?
The steelpan, mainly the double second.
What’s the best advice you received when you were learning to play?
“Use your auditory nerve!” – Cliff Alexis
Didn’t hear that until college but it will always be relevant!
What’s one of your favorite CYSO memories?
Opening up our first shipment of steelpans. It was like Christmas!
What advice would you give CYSO students, or young people thinking of auditioning for CYSO?
CYSO is one of many stops on your journey. Learn to be engaged in your progress without being attached to an outcome, kind and encouraging to yourself while still being honest, accepting without judgement and absorb as much as you can.
If you weren’t a conductor, what career would you want to try?
Maybe a hairdresser or a jewelry designer! Something creative using my hands.
What’s something fun about you that most people don’t know?
I had a list of nicknames growing up including:
007 (So this year’s CYSO 0070th Gala theme is actually…me)
Lik Lik (pronounced “leak leak”)