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Two US recitals show reach of pan education

Friday, April 19, 2013
Pan Worldwide
A file photo of Khion de Las who will feature in a pan recital at Northern Illinois University next week.

Ray Funk and Andrew Martin


The upcoming faculty recital of virtuosic pannist and Professor of Steelpan at Northern Illinois University Liam Teague is not the only place to hear pan in the concert hall next week. 


Sandwiched between Professor Teague’s April 25 faculty recital are two graduate student pan recitals that are both available to Trinidadians on webcast. 


Each recital offers a chance for the world to see more of the Northern Illinois University pan programme and the places it is taking pan in the 21st century. The first masters recital features Trinidadian Khion De Las and will be held on April 23 at 7.30 pm Trinidad time, and the second masters recital features Scott McConnell and will be held on Saturday April 27 at noon Trinidad time. 


The first masters recital featuring Khion De Las will include two classical transcriptions for pan. The first is a Paganini violin piece arranged for pan and piano and the second a transcription of a JS Bach violin sonata scored for a combination of tenor and double seconds. 


De Las’ recital will also feature the performance of two challenging solo pieces for tenor pan by Professor Teague titled Impressions and Trying a Ting. 


The purpose of a masters recital is to showcase an individual student’s mastery of solo and chamber performance as well as musical well-roundedness. De Las will show off his steelband arranging abilities with an arrangement for small pan group of Oba’s In My House. The song itself has a storied history and was the calypso that Despers and Clive Bradley used to win Panorama in 1999. 


De Las will also flex his pan muscles and improvising skills with selections for pan and jazz combo. Perhaps the most ambitious work of the recital, is the premiere of a classical composition for pan quartet written by De Las called Ukishizumi which translates as Ups and Downs and is part of the young pannist and composer’s ongoing series of new compositions for pan.


Khion “Khadence” De Las is from the village of Rousillac near the southern tip of Trinidad. He attended Presentation College in San Fernando and earned his Bachelors degree with honors in music from UWI, St. Augustine. 


Like many talented Trinidadian steelpan students before him, De Las went on to NIU in DeKalb, Illinois to study with Professor Teague. De Las came to pan at an early age but it was not until university that he really blossomed as a musician. 


It was at the academy that he found himself soaking up the creative atmosphere and he fell in love of with lots of styles of music, especially participating and the arranging for choirs. 


De Las also became involved in Broadway musicals at Presentation College and UWI. His love for pan is matched equally by his love of choral music and he continued this trend with his studies overseas. At NIU, he has been a member of the NIU Concert Chorale and the music fraternity where he has served as the music director. 


His pan accolades are numerous and De Las was a member of the prestigious National Steel Symphony Orchestra from 2007 to 2012. While at NIU, he has been an arranger and director for the All-University steelband and an arranger and soloist for the NIU steelband. 


At the most recent NIU steelband concert it was his arrangement of the global pop hit Gangnam Style by Psy that—with everyone in the band wearing sunglasses—was a great crowd pleaser. After graduation next month, he plans to return to Trinidad and is not sure what comes next, but he is sure it will involve teaching, performing, and pan.


The second upcoming masters pan recital at NIU features Scott McConnell. Born in Canada and raised in Illinois, he has come to pan from an entirely different direction than his colleague De Las. As a child, McConnell was no stranger to the sounds of pan, as his Guyanese father played pan music around the house. He started learning to play pan at the age of 12 and studied under Professor Paul Ross of Elgin Community College. 


Professor Ross was an NIU graduate and McConnell was able to witness firsthand the sweetness of pan by seeing Elgin Community College steelband concerts that featured guest artists like Ray Holman and Liam Teague. Thus sparked a lifelong interest in pan that has grown significantly over the past decade. 


McConnell furthered his pan studies by attending the Birch Creek, Wisconsin summer pan program run by NIU steelband founder Professor Al O’Connor and has long been a feeder program into the NIU pan program. Pan and music are a first love for McConnell, yet, he found it a challenge when he decided to major in music at NIU. 


He auditioned into the NIU steelband from the beginning of his undergraduate years (no small task indeed) and has been studying diligently ever since. McConnell has also taken the extra step of studying pan building and tuning with legendary panman and NIU faculty member Cliff Alexis in his shop. Beyond pan, McConnell has continued to explore other forms of world music and is a serious student of the North Indian tabla drum under Professor Robert Chappell. A few weeks ago he was the tabla player at Barry Mannette’s graduate recital on Chappell’s Panoraga, a duet for pan and tabla.


McConnell previously earned joint masters degrees in percussion performance and pan studies. The upcoming recital is in fulfillment of the requirements to earn the added performance certificate in pan. Through this added focus, he was able to visit Trinidad last year and play with both Starlift and Harmonites in Panorama. 


In the fall of 2012, McConnell will begin a new master’s degree in media studies, studying audio and video technology of pan. He is looking forward to the possibilities that this will offer and is considering a study of the technology of recording pan and steelbands. 


McConnell’s recital has similar breadth to that of De Las and features a range of works from a solo pan performance of a Bach fugue to leading a small steelband on his own arrangement of David Rudder’s The Hammer. McConnell will also perform two pieces with a small jazz combo, Afro by the great Cuban clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito De Rivera and Andy Narell’s Sea of Stories. In order to show his range as a performer McConnell also has chosen to perform 21, a piece by the avant garde classical composer Andy Akiho scored for pan and cello duo. 


Liam Teague, Andy Narell, and Boogsie Sharpe may be the now of pan, but these upcoming masters recitals by De Las and McConnell will surely offer a glimpse into pan’s future. 


Both recitals can be seen free of charge via Webcast by going to



Ray Funk is a retired Alaskan judge who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas. Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist and percussionist who wrote is dissertation on pan in America and directs a steelband at a college in Minnesota.


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