PHILIPSBURG:---Most of us knew Neville York as a native son, educated abroad, awesome pan musician, and head of the St. Maarten Cultural Department for 22 years. Some teachers and students knew him as the steel drum music instructor at e.g. Learning Unlimited. Musicians and jazz lovers like himself knew him to be a longtime advocate and promoter of jazz on St. Maarten, bringing world-class performers like Arturo Sandoval to the French side’s Le Flamboyant Hotel.
But how many of us knew Neville York as one of the top 10 steel drum players in the world, performing with symphony orchestras in Holland, Europe, and the United States, or touring with Marshall Vente’s ‘Tropicale’ as his band? In Vente’s tribute on May 9th entitled “Neville York’s Passing: A Sad day in Chicago” he says, “Neville’s sudden passing has shocked us here in Chicago, friends, and musicians. A very sad day. I had lunch with Neville in St. Maarten on March 10th; we talked about recording again sometime and his new school of music.....” “And our concerts in Chicago, plus 5 years of concerts with my band in St. Maarten and Anguilla – these will never be forgotten. Neville taught us so much about Caribbean life and culture......”
Does the 237 square-mile capitol city of Chicago, with 200 art galleries, dozens of cultural institutions, historical sites, and 2.5 million people -- know more about Neville York’s persona, range of accomplishments and pursuits than we do here? Do they have a more enhanced perception or esteem for his gifts, and perhaps for the man himself, than we have here at home?
With this unexpected loss, we are starkly reminded of how familiarity can make us strangers, how easily we assimilate and embrace the cultural icons and expressions of others, and how seldom we give our own their just due; that is, until our smiles, appreciation, pride and applause, can no longer be seen, heard, or felt.
Neville York taught Chicago ‘so much of Caribbean life and culture’. Can we ask them now for his voicings of us, for his intoning of our sensibilities, to assert for us that which was uniquely expressed thru his gifts of us? No. In the tapestry of our own cultural heritage and history, WE must -- with love for our individual and collective ‘selves’ -- do the gathering and the weaving. Our artists and their art are the vibrant color, the purifying wounds, the chords of many strings and strains that tell our stories -- symbolically and concretely -- binding our chapters together.
In his conclusion to St. Maarten’s cultural policy Neville says this:
“St. Maarten has developed over the years into a mini-metropolis and as such, it is imperative that we try to maintain a form of equilibrium between progress and our core cultural values; however, it must be clearly understood that “No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive”. (Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi 1869–1948). The accelerated march towards a new constitutional status provides a window of opportunity for the host society to embrace its diversity of cultures and find unity within them. But also realizing that this can only happen if -- and only if –self-preservation is our first priority. To this end, I leave you with this final quote from Gandhi: “.... I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible, but I refuse to be blown off my feet by any”. Neville C. York
Condolences to Neville York’s wife, Veronica York George, his father Chester York, his siblings and all his family, colleagues and friends.
Democratic Party St. Maarten