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Growing up in the Virgin Islands, Luben Daniel listened to his parents’ CDs of calypso, reggae, soul, gospel, and rhythm and blues. “Early on,” he said, “I knew what good music sounded like.”
Turns out he also knew how to make good music. Taking up the clarinet in fourth grade, he became first chair and section leader in his high school band. He also joined a steel band—a group of musicians who play steel pans tuned to various pitches.
“Steel band is our thing,” Luben said. “It represents all things Caribbean.”
His clarinet and steel-band gigs took him on melodious journeys to venues as far away as Argentina and the United States. Though performing resonated with him, Luben decided his musical future lay in teaching.
“It wasn’t a popular decision,” he said. “People told me, ‘With your talent, you could play in a big-time orchestra for big-time money.’ But without a school music program, I wouldn’t have discovered the fulfillment music brings. As a teacher, I could introduce that joy to others.” Luben set his sights on the music education program at IC. “A friend went there, and his musicianship skyrocketed. I wanted that.”
Luben traveled 1,600 miles to IC to focus on the clarinet but was surprised to find a slice of home on campus in the School of Music’s steel band. “I never expected to find one in Ithaca,” he said. “For my senior recital, I composed a work for the ensemble. The rehearsals were a joy for us all.
Something else unexpected happened his senior year. A teacher from his high school called. The band director was retiring. Would Luben be interested in the position?
“Going back home and teaching was all I’d ever wanted,” Luben said. “I never thought it would happen that quickly, because it’s rare for new graduates to find teaching positions at their high school alma maters.”
But Luben wasn’t scheduled to graduate in time to take the offer.
“Luben told me that spring that he’d just been offered his dream job and wondered what we could do to help him complete his degree earlier than he’d planned,” said Keith Kaiser, chair of music education. “A lot of people worked hard to make that happen—including Luben. He’s now back home, improving music education in the Virgin Islands.”
“Ithaca College redefined my comfort zone,” Luben said. “I discovered my strengths and weaknesses and how to confront them. Now I’ll be sharing how that growth process works with my students.”
>> More on this story: IC Steel Band
For me, musical performance has always been about the visible and tangible effects of art on an audience. Touring with Ithaca College ensembles gave me those experiences locally and in major cities like New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. But a chance encounter at IC is what really set me on my current path.
When I auditioned and got placed in the Women’s Chorale, I was wowed by the level of instruction and guidance I received from director Janet Galván – all before I was an official music major. Her support continued even beyond my time at IC, but to have it during that first year really spoke to how much she cared about her students.
The thing is, she wasn’t the only faculty member like that. I could always drop by a professor’s office and say, “I’m having a hard time with this, please help me brainstorm.”
Through Janet’s summer conducting workshops, I became familiar with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. A year after I graduated IC, I found out they were looking for conductors. In fact, it was during one of those workshops that I approached YPC’s artistic director and said, “Hey, I’m interested in conducting for you.”
Now I’m the one with the baton, and I get to share the artistic experiences I always sought with the next generation of young vocalists, and inspire them to find their own paths.
>> More on this story: Women's Chorale
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