Ray Funk and Andrew Martin
The Northern Illinois University Steelband celebrate the programme's 40th anniversary this April with a month-long array of unique concerts and performances. The festivities began with the NIU Steelband's annual spring concert on April 13, and will continue with five recitals performed by NIU steelpan graduate students later in the month.
All the recitals will be webcast from the NIU School of Music Web site and are sure to offer audiences in T&T and the greater steelband community spread across the globe a glimpse into one of America's premier pan programmes as it marks this important milestone.
The past year saw NIU steelband programme co-directors Liam Teague and Cliff Alexis showered with an astounding number of awards and recognition for excellence. In November, Cliff Alexis was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, an honour bestowed upon only one other pannist–Ellie Mannette. During the finals of the T&T Panorama this year Alexis was one of eight persons honoured for their "sterling contribution to the Steelband Movement."
Meanwhile, in February, Liam Teague was announced as the 2014 Arts and Letters winner of the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence. Established in 2005, the Sabga award comes with significant prestige and a considerable cash award. For Teague, the award came as quite a surprise as he learned of the news while in Trinidad working with Silver Stars on a stunning panorama arrangement of Tony Barclay's The Reason that earned the band a respectable sixth place finish in the Panorama finals.
The biggest event of the NIU Steelband 40th Anniversary celebration was the band's spring concert held on April 13.
The concert was a celebration of the NIU Steelband's past, present, and future. Guest soloists included, among others, Panamanian violinist Graciela Nunez who gave a rousing rendition of the Camille Saint Saen's Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.
Nunez was also featured, along with Teague, in a performance of an amazing new piece, a duet for steelpan and violin, Bach Talk, written by Dr Jan Bach, who came to attention in the steelband world through his Concerto for Steelpan and Orchestra championed and performed the world over by Teague.
The new piece was jointly commissioned through Dean Richard Holly's office at the College of Visual and Performing Arts at NIU and the T&T Music Literacy Trust.
Much of the concert programme was, however, a walk down memory lane and repertoire included old band favorites such as Cliff Alexis' Summer Song and Confusion Reggae, plus his arrangement of Pan 2000 which helped the band to earn second place at the 2000 World Steelband Festival in Trinidad.
Not to be left out, the NIU Steelband also played one of Teague's newer arrangements, Dougla, which is a composition written for his son, Jaden Teague-Nunez. The band played spectacularly and the audience was enthusiastic.
April is also the month for the student recitals and a number of NIU graduate pan students are all giving recitals including Christina Guerrero, Emily Lanxner, Josanne Francis, Yuki Nakano, and Mike Schwebke. All of these recitals will be webcast and reflect a wide range of pieces performed on pan.
An amazingly diversified series of pan performances, many of the pieces are collaborations with small pan combos and in unique pairings with other traditional instruments. From Diego Martin, Josanne Francis is currently serving as the co-director and co-arranger of the NIU All-University steelband. She was the winner of the 2013 NIU Concerto Competition where she performed the Jan Bach concerto for steelpan with the NIU Philharmonic on February 12.
Francis was a first place winner at the American Prot�g� International Concerto Competition and will be performing on Memorial Day, May 26, in New York City at Carnegie Hall, an enormous honour.
She was also recently the subject of a When Steel Talks Women in Pan profile. Francis' recital will feature her arrangements of Franz Lizst's Hungarian Rhapsody, Lord Kitchener's Iron Man, and a range of other material.
Khan Cordice from Antigua, currently co-director NIU All-University steelband with Francis, will not be giving a recital this spring but is busy with steelband-related activities including the recent launch of a Web site, www.khancordice.com, performing as a guest artist at the University of Akron's steelband concert on April 6, and preparing for another round of competition in Antigua.
His arrangements for Hell's Gate steelband have won the Antigua Panorama competition the past four years. Originally a flautist and high woodwinds specialist, Christina Guerrero comes from a strong classical background to the steelpan.
Accordingly, her recital features a Bach flute piece newly arranged for pan by NIU graduate Kenneth Joseph in addition to an arrangement of Lord Kitchener's Bees Melody and some of Liam Teague's original pieces for pan. Guerrero plans to stay in Illinois following graduation to perform with Potts and Pan Steelband as well as teach flute and pan.
Yuki Nakano is a Japanese percussionist who after many years of performance on xylophone and marimba fell in love with pan. She now teaches pan and directs a steelband in Japan and has been going down to Trinidad for Panorama since 2009. This past year she performed with Silver Stars.
Nakano's recital will feature a steelpan concerto by Ben Wahlund (Only When Eternity Nears) as well as pieces written by former NIU percussion professor Robert Chapell that involve pan and tabla drums of India.
Following graduation, Nakano plans to return to Japan to perform and teach pan. Follow Yuki Nakano and pan activities in Japan from her Web site www.yuki-steelpan.com.
On April 17, Mike Schwebke will give his final recital at NIU in fulfillment of the requirements of his Performers Certificate in steelpan. Schwebke's recital will feature a Chopin transcription, reggae, some of Kevin Bobo's new pieces for pan, and two of Robert Chappell's pieces for steelpan.
Following graduation from NIU, Schwebke is off to Colorado to pursue further graduate studies in percussion.
Emily Lanxner came to NIU to pursue her graduate degree in pan after leading a steelband in Vermont for over two decades. She first came to Trinidad in 1983 to play with Desperadoes and has since returned to Trinidad regularly for many years.
Lanxner's recital will include classical adaptations of pieces by Bach, Bartok, and Chopin as well as jazz and Brazilian pieces. She will also perform an arrangement of St Thomas with elements of New Orleans brass band, Haitian rara, and pan around the neck.
The NIU concert and recital halls are set up for high quality webcasts that consistently draw in large crowds for pan events.
These pan webcasts are a great opportunity to see pan at its best and help celebrate four decades of one of the great pan education efforts in America, a tribute to the NIU Steelband's founder Al O'Connor who put in place and developed what has become America's best.
Ray Funk is a retired Alaskan judge who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas. Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, pannist, and Associate Professor of Music at Inver Hills College in St Paul, Minnesota.
NIU Pan webcast events
Visit http://www.niu.edu/Music/media/webcasts/index.shtml to hear and see these pan events. Times listed are Trinidad time.
Today, 8:30 pm Mike Schwebke graduate recital
April 19, 1 pm Christina Guerrero graduate recital
April 19, 9 pm Josanne Francis graduate recital
Wednesday April 23, 8:30 pm Yuki Nakano graduate recital
April 27, 7 pm, Emily Lanxner graduate recital