restricted access 8 - The Paganini of Pan, Liam Teague, Comes to Niu
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C H A P T E R 8 THE PAGANINI OF PAN, LIAM TEAGUE, COMES TO NIU Sir, right now in my life I’ve got no idea what I am going to do because honestly, if I don’t get into university, I think within the next couple of years I think I may be on the streets. —Liam Teague to Al O’Connor (1992)1 The year 1989 was good for O’Connor, Alexis, and the NIU Steelband. O’Connor’s career, in particular, took a major turn for the better. During the late summer he was promoted to the position of Associate Dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts at NIU. In addition to his duties with the NIU Steelband, O’Connor was now in charge of monitoring academic programs, coordinating academic reviews, preparing budgets, tracking student performance data and student recruitment,and supervising financial aid and scholarships.2 With his new position came great responsibility, and O’Connor’s seemingly nonexistent time was now stretched even further. He nonetheless found plenty of time to play steelpan and retained his duties as steelband co-director. In November of that same year, O’Connor undertook yet another step in his lifelong steelpan journey, embarking on his first visit to Trinidad and Tobago. This was the very first trip to the birthplace of steelpan for O’Connor, and he was eager to take in the sights, sounds,and smells of the place to whose musical culture he was so devoted.Alexis had been singing the praises of his NIU colleague to the panmen of Trinidad and Tobago for some time and was eager to take O’Connor to the panyards and introduce him to the legends and pioneers of the craft. For Alexis, the trip was less about a homecoming and more about establishing the credibility of O’Connor and NIU in the circles of influential government C H A P T E R 8 80 and Pan Trinbago officials. The international success of the NIU steelband program would need to start, first and foremost, in Trinidad and Tobago, and Alexis called upon his own personal reputation as a nationally respected steelpan legend to put weight behind the NIU Steelband and its director. Little did O’Connor and Alexis know that their trip to Trinidad in 1989 would have such important lasting ramifications for the steelband program at NIU, as this was the trip in which O’Connor and Alexis first met steelpan prodigy and future NIU steelband faculty member Liam Teague. In July of 1989, O’Connor and Alexis were officially invited by Selwyn Tarradath of Pan Trinbago to come to Trinidad and Tobago as special guests of the organization.3 Tarradath was the education officer of Pan Trinbago, an original member of the famous Woodbrook steelband Phase II, and a lifelong friend of Alexis. By 1989, the name Al O’Connor was a familiar one to many Trinidadian steelpan enthusiasts, as his arrangement of Aaron Copland ’s Appalachian Spring was performed to rave reviews by the Our Boys Steel Orchestra during the 1988 Pan Is Beautiful steelband competition. Trinidad and Tobago has a biannual nationwide festival held in the fall that celebrates steelband beyond the scope of Carnival. The festival is divided by age group, with a youth competition and an adult competition. The two competitions are held in even/odd year cycles. The youth competition is called the National Schools Steelband Festival, and the adult competition is known as Pan Is Beautiful. Through Alexis’s influence and lobbying Pan Trinbago became interested in having O’Connor as a judge for the biannual National Schools Steelband Competition. Trinidad and Tobago is no stranger to having outsiders and non-panmen judge steelband competitions. In fact, many of the early steelband competitions in the 1950s were judged, in part, by British music educators, who had very little or no background in steelband.4 Further, the very first Trinidadian Panorama steelband competition held in 1963 was judged by Captain John McDonald, a US Navy officer and musician who was the Chief Naval Officer of the US military base in Chaguaramas, Trinidad from 1961 to 1963.5 In this sense, O’Connor’s judging of Pan Is Beautiful in 1989 was part of a larger tradition. Throughout the years, many winners of the steelpan soloist competition from the National Schools Steelband Festival have gone on to great things in steelpan,such as solo careers or established careers as arrangers...