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C H A P T E R 5 GUEST ARTISTS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS I just want you all to know that I consider this concert today with the NIU steelband a real breakthrough in my career. And I want to thank Liam, Cliff, and NIU for this opportunity! —Freddy Harris III (2012)1 For any college or university performing ensemble, featuring a guest artist or soloist is a steadfast way to challenge student performers, elevate the overall quality of the ensemble, and invigorate the student body of the institution. In addition to such benefits, guest artists often bring new or different cultural perspectives to a region unaccustomed to meeting individuals from a specific part of the world. Guest artists represent a chance for faculty members to bring in outside experts with the hope that they,too,can learn from the experience and skill of the specialist. Finally, guest artists allow music ensembles, and even entire music programs, the opportunity for marketing and publicity that hopefully will reach a wider audience beyond the campus, drawing in the public and perspective students to the campus. The inherent benefits of visiting guest artists aside, such luxuries are expensive, and funding these outside experts is a challenge for most music departments and schools of music throughout the United States. This fact alone makes the appearance of such an artist a rare occasion on most university campuses across the United States. Since the inception of the percussion program at NIU in 1968, O’Connor had felt very strongly that bringing guest artists to campus was an integral part of the NIU experience. The vast array of world music instruments and musical traditions that fall within the auspices of percussion, too vast for one individual to master, present challenges for percussion C H A P T E R 5 48 students and professors at colleges and universities across the United States. For the past fifty years the expectation that college-level percussion students can master an ever-expanding number of instruments that individually require a lifetime of study in order to develop mastery has steadily increased, and many percussionists choose to specialize as they advance along the path of their degree studies.For this very reason,O’Connor insisted on bringing leading national and international figures in percussion performance to the NIU campus as guests throughout his teaching and administrative career. This included guest timpanists, multi-percussionists (Nexus), drum set players (Louis Bellson), xylophonists (Bob Becker), marimbists (Leigh Howard Stevens, Keiko Abe, Gordon Stout), vibraphonists (Brad Stirtz, David Samuels), and of course, a cavalcade of steelpan players and builders. The guest artists who worked specifically with the NIU Steelband reflect the development of the band over the course of its history. That is to say that as the NIU Steelband progressed from sharing concerts with the percussion ensemble,Musica Exotica series,and Rosewood-n-Steel concerts shared with the NIU marimba ensemble in the 1970s into the early 1980s, to the Alexis era starting in 1985, the guests artists also changed to reflect the developments of steelpan in Trinidad and the United States. Regardless of the sea change, one thing that remained constant from year to year was the consistently high quality of the steelpan guest artists. O’Connor and Alexis made a practice of seeking out the best and brightest stars of the steelpan world to perform with the NIU Steelband and to inspire the NIU student body. Even to this day, soloing with the NIU Steelband serves as a benchmark for up-and-coming steelpan soloists the world over, as evidenced by the performances of young virtuosos Freddy Harris III and Jonathan Scales. The strong tradition of the NIU Steelband hosting guest artists was a tradition forged by O’Connor and Alexis collectively. In fact, prior to the arrival of Alexis in 1985 as a member of the NIU music faculty, the NIU Steelband featured very few guest soloists during its first decade. This was due to several factors, the two most pressing of which were access to quality steelpan soloists and the NIU Steelband concert structure. The NIU Steelband began performing in 1973; however, its first official concert performance was with the NIU percussion ensemble in 1974. From 1975 to 1981, the NIU Steelband shared concerts with the NIU percussion ensemble and also performed as part of the Musica Exotica series started by ethnomusicology professor Dr. Han, which featured all the world music ensembles at NIU in annual concerts known for their diverse...


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