restricted access 11 - O’Connor Retires, Teague/Alexis Era Begins
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C H A P T E R 1 1 O’CONNOR RETIRES, TEAGUE/ALEXIS ERA BEGINS From its humble beginnings in 1973 through the high-profile tours and triumphs of the 1990s and early 2000s, Al O’Connor and Cliff Alexis were the identity of steelband at Northern Illinois University.After thirty-five years of teaching and service to NIU, O’Connor decided to fully retire in the summer of 2003, and protégé Liam Teague took over as co-director of the NIU Steelband. The announcement came as little surprise to those affiliated with the NIU steelband program as O’Connor had already retired from his position as associate dean of NIU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts in the spring of 2000.1 O’Connor continued on a phased-retirement plan as co-director of the NIU Steelband in part to usher Teague and Alexis through the transition and to aid the NIU Steelband’s tours to Korea in 2002 for the World Cup festivities. In a process that began prior to his graduation from NIU with a master’s degree in steelpan in 1999, Teague was groomed to be O’Connor’s successor as a steelband faculty member at NIU. Since his arrival on campus in the winter of 1993, Teague had been thrust to the fore by O’Connor and Alexis as a representative of the NIU steelband program in various capacities. Teague was constantly featured as a soloist with the NIU Steelband and as a guest artist with many other steelbands and traditional Western classical ensembles throughout the United States and the world. Countless awards and accolades followed the virtuoso, and there was no shortage of ink spilled by newspapers in Trinidad and Tobago and the United States chronicling his accomplishments. Teague’s journey was not, however, without its challenges. Despite the praise and adoration , by the fall of 1998, Teague was still in the same predicament as he had been in 1992 C H A P T E R 1 1 104 when he first contacted O’Connor and Alexis, pleading to come to NIU. Teague was set to finish his graduate degree in steelpan performance at NIU in the spring of 1999,and had,at the time, no solid plans for his future.Would he return to Trinidad? Would he try to extend his student visa and stay in the United States? Questions abounded, but the answers were few, and the reality of Teague’s professional future was far from certain. When talking about his dear friend and colleague Alexis, O’Connor conceded, “Cliff will probably never retire, he’ll die with a hammer in his hand!”2 For O’Connor, however, retirement was very much on his mind, and as the 1990s wore on, the end was in sight. He and Alexis talked on numerous occasions during the time that Teague was pursuing his master’s degree about what should happen to Teague; that is, how to retain him at NIU and how to maintain the steelpan faculty tenure line within the NIU School of Music. O’Connor ’s faculty position, regardless of his actual duties with the NIU Steelband, was classified as “percussion professor generalist,” which included classical percussion, drum set and the like—skills in which the pannist Teague was not trained. The matter also weighed on Dean Holly, too, and he contemplated possible ways in which Teague could be retained: “We knew we had to do something, anything, in order to keep him here.”3 Teague’s ascent from student to professor at NIU was a process that evolved from his arrival on campus at NIU in January of 1993. His prodigious talent and reputation as a virtuoso pannist preceded him; however, it was Teague’s vision for the future development of steelpan, and the steelband program at NIU, that greatly impressed O’Connor and Alexis. Jan Bach’s Concerto for Steelpan From the day he arrived at NIU, Teague was interested in pushing himself and the boundaries of the steelpan. One way in which he did this was as a featured soloist with the NIU Steelband.When the NIU Steelband first went out on“run out” concerts after Liam arrived in 1993, he was used as a featured soloist, and audiences were shocked and mesmerized at his skill and technical proficiency. As Elizabeth DeLamater recalled, “I saw Liam overwhelmed by screaming high-school girls in Chicago one time.We were loading up the pans after the concert...


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