String People is a performing and educational ensemble. Shaped by the writings of Paolo Freire, bell hooks, and Howard Zinn, we believe that teaching the whole person in a space of trust, critical inquiry, and self-expression, is the key to a transformational learning experience. We use music as both a window into hidden historical narratives, and a mirror for deep reflection and self-expression, to inspire and empower all learners.
We started in 2017 presenting the first A People’s History of Strings narrative concerts, as an interactive and multimedia journey that traces the evolution of fiddles around the world. From the first bowed instruments in Central and South Asia over two thousand years ago, we follow the lineage through the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and back to the USA. A People’s History of Strings explores relationships between cultures by exposing the connections between musical traditions that range from jazz and salsa to the classical music of Europe and the Middle East, all while offering a deeper and de-colonized understanding of an instrument we thought we knew so well.
Our work continues to evolve as we’ve asked – and been asked – more and better questions, like:
“What’s your location in this story?”
“Can I teach beginners from this perspective?”
“Can you help me do a concert like this with my students?”
“Can you work with my Social Studies class?”
“Se puede presentarlo en español?”
“How can I help my students feel safe improvising?”
“How can I help my teachers feel safe improvising??”
The short answer is almost always yes. The full answer, we’ll find together.
Skye Soto Steele, founder
- I am an improvising violinist and singer-songwriter. I’ve released four albums of original music and toured as a solo artist throughout the USA and Europe, as well as working as musical director and multi-instrumentalist for platinum-selling singer songwriter Vanessa Carlton for over a decade. I’ve had the chance to work with jazz legends like Henry Butler, Anthony Braxton, Steven Bernstein, Matt Wilson, and Lee Konitz, and with country and rock artists including Willie Nelson, Jolie Holland, and Deer Tick. I’ve also been in lots of bands with my friends including Anistar, Nation Beat, the Jean Rohe Trio, Vampire Suit, M-Lab, First Cousins Once Removed, Trio Tarana, the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, and too many others to name.
- I’m a life-long student. In my desire to understand the connections and distinctions between string-playing traditions from around the world, I’ve had the chance to learn from masters like Mestre Salustiano, Seu Luiz Paixao, Najib Shaheen, Kala Ramnath, Nelson Mateo Gonzalez, and Selim Sesler. My conservatory training was at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, where my teachers included Mat Maneri, Jimmy Owens, LeeAnn Ledgerwood, Reggie Workman, and Charles Tolliver.
- In my own practice, I teach classroom strings in NYC public schools, facilitate songwriting workshops for teens and new parents through Carnegie Hall, and work with adult musicians living in incarceration. String People is an extension of my two decades of work in this field, driven by a passion for student empowerment and culturally relevant pedagogy.
- I am a 4th generation teacher, going back to my great-grandmother Felicita Piñero de Peña, who taught elementary school in Juncos, Puerto Rico, and my mother Rita Steele (née Soto) who was a bi-lingual, school orchestra, and private Suzuki violin teacher.
I was blown away by the quality of the music and the instruction, the extensive historical and cultural scope of the curriculum, and the profound joy which Skye and his musicians spread throughout our school. Skye’s programming remains a highlight of our school’s yearly calendar.