New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

What's that sound? November is International Drum Month, a time to celebrate the huge diversity of percussion instruments from around the world. Percussion instruments are any instruments that produce sound through physical impact—drums beating, cymbals clanking, bells ringing and hands clapping. Along with our singing voices, they're the oldest type of instrument in humankind's musical history.

Through November 8th, Isango Ensemble is on the New Victory stage presenting their jubilant adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Benjamin Britten's Shakespearean opera. Voices raised in operatic song are accompanied by South African music and dance, elevated by percussion all around. The percussionists, many of them also performers, flank the stage and take turns playing multiple instruments. Keep reading to learn a bit about these instruments before you come to see the show!

A baritone marimba Marimbas of various tonalities

The first instruments you'll notice onstage are marimbas. Not to be confused with xylophones, marimbas feature wooden bars mounted above tubular resonators, which make their sound more, well, resonant! If you peek under Isango Ensemble's marimbas from the front, you might see them. Nowadays the resonators are made of wood or aluminum, but traditionally they were made from hollowed gourds. Also, where traditional marimbas would have been tuned to play only notes from a specific melodic scale, modern marimbas are chromatic—they feature bars for every note, like keys on a piano.

Just as Isango Ensemble's different opera singers have different vocal ranges (Mezzo-soprano, Countertenor, Bass, etc.), the marimbas they use come in four sizes corresponding to their pitches. Highest to lowest, they are Piccolo, Soprano, Tenor and Baritone, and they're arranged in that order onstage with the Baritone farthest upstage (toward the back) and the Piccolo farthest downstage (toward the front). "What about huge Double-Bass marimbas?" you ask. Indeed! They are the deepest-sounding of all marimbas, but they didn't make the trip from South Africa this time.


Djembe drum Djembe drum with a crocodile carving

You will also hear drums, but these aren't the snare, tom-tom or bass drums of your typical rock band—no. These are djembe drums. Carved from wood and covered with rawhide (often goatskin), djembe drums are quite loud—you won't see many of them on stage, but you'll definitely hear them. While it's the large interior cavity that resonates, the rawhide drumhead is tightened and tuned to a specific note using a series of ropes knotted all the way around. Djembes are a variety of goblet drum, carved with wider drumheads and narrower bases, and resembling a goblet. If you look closely, you may notice lively carvings around their bases—birds, crocodiles, geometric patterns.


When Puck, played by Noluthando Boqwana, shakes her feathery wand onstage, the sound you'll hear is actually coming from a cabasa just offstage. The clacking sound of this handheld percussion instrument comes from a series of ball chains wrapped around a corrugated metal cylinder. Traditionally, like the marimba resonators, cabasas were made from gourds. Just wrap a net tied with small beads or shells around the bulb of the gourd, and use the stem as a handle for shaking!

Fairy Instruments

BroomThe fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream all carry brooms, not just as instruments of magic, but as percussion instruments as well! The brooms sweep and glide across the stage, occasionally smacking it, and all these motions generate swooshes and thumps that add to the soundscape of the show.

The fairies also wear long, beaded necklaces, which softly click and rattle as they move. Puck's costume, though, takes the percussion cake. Her skirt is fashioned from strands of wooden beads, and hung among the strands are wooden kitchen implements—spoons and spatulas—that collide with the beads and give Puck's signature gait a signature percussive accompaniment!

Feet and hands

The oldest percussion instruments of all, and ones that Isango Ensemble puts to excellent use, are our hands and feet. During the show's many joyful dance sequences, the barefoot performers join the djembes in drumming and punctuating the rhythms of Britten's music onto the wooden stage. The stage is inclined and elevated, leaving space underneath for their stomps to resonate (like the resonators under the marimba bars or the cavity under the goatskin drumhead). Resonate they do, and the sound adds a rich vitality to the dancing. After all, dancing's no good without a decent beat!

As for hands, Isango Ensemble leaves that up to you. "Give me hands if we be friends," Puck says, inviting applause from the audience as the show ends. So put your hands together, percussionists, and clap out a celebratory rhythm of your own.
Kudu Horn Corrugaphone

When you come to see A Midsummer Night's Dream, pay attention to all the instruments you see and hear. The kudu horn and the corrugaphone (sometimes called a whirly tube) lend their unique sounds to the performance, too. They're not percussion instruments—they're winds—but keep an ear out for them anyway!
Posted by Zack Ramadan

The New Victory Theater launched the New Victory Usher Corps the day the theater opened to provide paid employment, job training, academic support, mentorship and an introduction to the performing arts for over 50 young New Yorkers each year. Since then, the program has provided over 400,000 hours of paid employment to over 500 NYC teens from across the city. Find out how the young people in your life can apply to be a part of this award-winning program!

All season long, we'll be featuring young people from our Usher Corps in our New Vic Bills and here on the New Victory Blog. Today we’re talking to third-year usher Junior Castillo, a self-described "Brooklyn baby."

Third-Year Usher Junior CastilloWho inspires you?
My parents are my biggest inspiration. They had to work very hard each and every day to ensure that my siblings and I would have a decent education.

What is your fondest or eariest childhood memory?
Learning how to ride a bike would be my earliest childhood memory. The process was intense, but my father helped me along the way.

What was your favorite story as a kid?
Clifford the Big Red Dog! I was truly obsessed with this series. I even named one of my dogs Clifford.

What was your favorite subject in school?
Photography was my favorite subject in high school. It was the only subject where I actually got to create something fun.

How would you describe your personal style?
Casual and modern.

What's your favorite song right now?
"One and Only" by Adele.

What's your favorite place to eat or grab food near the theater?
Starbucks! Best Frappuccinos in town.

What's your favorite thing to do when you're not at work?
Most of the time I am full up with homework, but now and then I'm able to get out and explore the city. 

What's your favorite NYC hangout or neighborhood?
My best friend lives in Williamsburg, so we chill there all the time. Williamsburg has the coolest coffee shops and thrift stores.

What's the most challenging thing about being an usher?
Balancing my time between school and work.
Posted by Zack Ramadan
November 23, 2015

¡Bienvenidos a Cuba Vibra!

Cuba Vibra! is a spirited extravaganza of dance and music, and the superb dancers of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba (LADC) tell stories through traditional Cuban dance styles—cha-cha-cha, mambo, rumba, conga, bolero—all backed by a big band and lyrics sung in Spanish. When you come to see Cuba Vibra!, you'll find in your New Vic Bill a list of the dance and musical numbers, called a set list, along with summaries of each song's choreographed story. But unless you understand Spanish, you may still wonder how the lyrics of the songs relate to the stories you're seeing unfold onstage.

So let's take a look at some of the lyrics from the show, along with the stories that Lizt Alfonso has choreographed, and shed some light on the connections. Spanish lyrics will appear on the left, and their English translations on the right!

Música y Estrellas

The opening number of Cuba Vibra! features the entire ensemble in a celebratory welcome. You'll hear the singers repeat the the song's title numerous times, Música y Estrellas—Music and Stars. Music, yes. But what stars? Where? The rest of the lyrics shed some light on this stellar mystery, and the full version of the song—performed by LADC in their musical Amigas—features a narrator:
Música y Estrellas
Tu programa va a empezar
Te traigo música y estrellas

Muy buenas noches, señoras y señores.
Bienvenidos a esta emición especial de su
programa favorito de la televisión cubana,
Musica y Estrellas.
Music and Stars
Your program is about to begin
I'm bringing you music and stars

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
Welcome to this special broadcast of your
favorite Cuban television program,
Music and Stars.

Mystery solved! Música y Estrellas was a iconic television program in Cuba during the 1960s and early 1970s. A musical variety show in the vein of The Ed Sullivan Show, it featured both musical newcomers and established musical celebrities—stars!—debuting new music and dancing to the popular rhythms of the day. Cuba Vibra! is a similar medley of celebrated music and dance, and so its opening number pays tribute to its spiritual predecessor from Cuban television.

Té Bailable

The setting for Té Bailable (Danceable Tea) is an afternoon tea party in the late 1950s, which is how you'll find it listed in your New Vic Bill. The music compels the young ladies in attendance to dance, and a young man soon joins them; but what does the music have to say?
Soy un hombre presumido, vanidoso, peculiar.
Tengo un andar que sofoca,
Que a las mujeres las vuelve locas.
I'm a boastful, vain, peculiar man.
I have a walk that takes [their] breath away,
That drives the ladies crazy.

As it turns out, the young man who joins them is a bit full of himself! Though they do seem a bit distracted by his dancing.


The tea party comes to an end, and the young people begin looking for romance! The course of true love never did run smooth, though—the music clues us into their frustrations and fickle hearts. Quizás, Spanish for Perhaps, is a song about the mixed messages and fear of commitment that young people in love are sometimes guilty of.
Siempre que te pregunto,
"¿Qué, cuándo, cómo y dónde?" 
Tú siempre me respondes,
"Quizás, quizás, quizás..."

Y así pasan los días,
Y yo, desesperando,
Y tú, tú contestando, 
"Quizás, quizás, quizás..."
I'm always asking you,
"What? When? How and where?"
You always answer me,
"Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps..."

And so the days pass,
Me losing hope,
And you, you answering, 
"Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...."

You may have heard the English version of this song before, made famous by Desi Arnaz and, later, Doris Day; but the lyrics to that version are not a direct translation. Check out a comparison here, and listen for the final chorus of the song, which LADC's vocalist sings in English!


This musical number, Espiritualidad (Spirituality) features a mystical ceremony. You will hear music with lyrics—the song Ayyaba by Carlos Alfonso and the Eme Alfonso Quartet—but the lyrics are not in Spanish. They are in Lucumí, an Afro-Cuban dialect of the West African Yorùbá language. In Cuba, and in parts of the southern United States, this language is not widely spoken. Rather, it's used only in the rituals of Santería, the set of mystical religious practices that combine Catholicism with West African Yorùbá traditions. What you're seeing and hearing onstage in Espiritualidad is a Santería ritual!

El Vecindario

When the rumba is danced at community gatherings or in the streets, it's often called a rumbón. In El Vecindario, or Neighborhood, a community of dancers and musicians gathers onstage for a fiesta. The rumbón begins and the sound of the drums takes over. Rhythms from other countries, like swing and rock 'n' roll, are blended with traditional Cuban beats, and one young man comes onstage to declare his love for a girl named Regla.
Oye, Regla! En este día te canto.
No me importa lo que digan,
Ni lo que estén comentando.
A esta mujer le canto porque enamorado estoy!

Ay! Si yo no quiero tanto,
Con el corazón tú sabes que te canto.
Listen, Regla! Today I sing to you.
It doesn't matter to me what they say,
Nor what they might be talking about.
I sing to this woman because I'm in love!

Oh, if I don't love so much [as you might like],
Know that I'm singing to you with my heart.

In front of the whole neighborhood, this young man is declaring his love in song, and he doesn't care what anyone thinks. He wants Regla to know that his feelings are so honest that, not only has he been moved to song, but that he's willing to risk the embarrassment of singing in public. He really has nothing to worry about—his singing is great!

Bésame Mucho

After the neighborhood party, two young ladies try to capture the attention of the man of their dreams. It's a struggle, and only one will triumph! The song choice here is one of the most famous Spanish-language songs ever written—Bésame Mucho
Bésame, bésame mucho,
Como si fuera esta noche
La última vez.
Bésame, bésame mucho,
Que tengo miedo a perderte,
Perderte después.

Quiero tenerte muy cerca,
Mirarme en tus ojos,
Verte junto a mí.
Piensa que tal vez mañana
Yo ya estaré lejos
Muy lejos de ti.
Kiss me, kiss me lots,
As if tonight were
The last time.
Kiss me, kiss me lots,
Because I'm afraid of losing you,
Losing you afterward.

I want to have you very close,
To look at myself in your eyes,
To see you next to me.
Just think that maybe tomorrow
I'll already be far away,
Very far away from you.

So, while the lovestruck dancers spin about onstage, the music suggests that there might be something more afoot than just a typical teenage romance. "Kiss me now, because I might not be here tomorrow!" Is it just hyperbole? Or perhaps it's foreshadowing the coming end of the Cuban Revolution? The musical numbers that follow in the second act certainly express the impact, stess and loss of wartime. Quizás, quizás, quizás.

Most of the numbers of in the second act feature no lyrics, so sit back and enjoy the music and dance. This night will be full of surprises—surprises that, in the words of the Música y Estrellas narrator, "will make you laugh, cry, remember and relive." Prepared as you are now, the wonder of Cuba Vibra! will still surprise and delight you. ¡Disfrútense todos! Enjoy.
Posted by Zack Ramadan