PAN CHATS

LIAM TEAGUE

Another When Steel Talks Exclusive

 


Basement Recordings:
1.  What is your role at NIU?

 

Liam:
My official title is Research Scholar.  NIU is one of three universities in the world where one can pursue a degree in music with specific emphasis in the Stee
lpan ( Florida Memorial and UWI are the other two).  I work with the 10 or so Steelpan majors on elements of music such as improvisation, technique, sight reading and general musicianship.  I also assist the Directors of the 35-member Steelband, Al O'connor and Clifford Alexis.

 

Basement Recordings:
2.  Which Musicians are your role models?

Liam:
Initially my mentors were classical musicians like Violin virtuosos Jasha Heifetz and Itzvak Perlman( I also play the violin and recorder).  When I came to NIU, I fell in love with jazz and world music and also started to emulate the great improvisers of pan such as " Boogsie" and Robert Greenidge.  My tastes became even wider as I discovered Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane etc.  Today, I blend all of these influences with contemporary jazzers such as Joshua Redman and Kenny Garrett as well as world musicians such as Zakir Hussain ( tabla) and Gilberto Gil( Brazil)..

 

Basement Recordings:
3.  If "Pan is in Danger", how do you think it can be saved?

Liam:
The reality of the situation is that the Steelpan as a novelty instrument will continue to mystify non-musicians as well as musicians.  However, if its place as a serious instrument is to be taken amongst instruments such as the violin, piano, clarinet etc then a number of things needs to happen.

i)   Significant support from the public and Government of Trinidad and Tobago needs to be given rather than the lip service that is so often paid to our " National Instrument." One only has to look at the disappointing support given to non" wine and jam"-oriented pan festivals to comprehend the lip service that mentioned above.

ii)  Our pannists must become musically literate in order to make serious and consistent impacts in the music world.  The " Boogsies" and Robert Greenidges ( non-literate pannists) are rare talents.

iii)  This is perhaps the most important point: Trinibagonians; especially the new generation, have to develop a deep understanding and love for this fantastic instrument and its players that God has blessed us with.  We truly do not conceptualize how lucky we are to have so many blessings and instead pannists need to travel abroad in order to gain some semblance of true respect.

 

Basement Recordings:
4.  Why do you believe the future the pannists have in front of them is bleak?

Liam:
The answer to this question is very obvious.  How many pannists can make a secure living playing their instrument( retirement benefits etc)at present ? Unless pannists educate themselves holistically and continue to promote the instrument in progressive contexts, then they will continue to believe that the only possibilities that are open to them are playing on cruise ships, or island -themed parties where the music is subjected to the background and nobody really takes the time to digest what is being played.  There are only a few professional pannists that have managed to have a somewhat decent career.  It is up to the new generation to take it to the next level.
 

 

Basement Recordings:
5.   Given the opportunity, how would you go about educating the pannists in Trinidad and abroad?

Liam:
At NIU, I am doing just that.  We have students from various places in the USA as well as the Caribbean.  Education can take a number of forms: music literacy, business acumen and savvy, historical knowledge of the instrument, English literacy and the like.  I would love to be able to contribute to the youth of the greatest country in the world: Trinidad and Tobago.  I love my country so much but is hurts me because I can't live there for more than a few months, tops ! I have seen so many young Steelpan players with far more natural talent than myself, subjected to playing on the streets or at hotels where no one really listens.  I know that many people may be angry with some of the things that i say but I am only dealing with the reality of what i have witnessed.

 

Basement Recordings:
6.  Do you participate in any carnival activities in Trinidad ( i.e. Panorama?)

Liam:
I haven't participated in Carnival in about 10 years or so.  The reason being is that i was working on my Bachelors and Masters Degrees at NIU during the same time that Carnival would be taking place.


Basement Recordings:
7.   Do you participate in any carnival or cultural activities outside of Trinidad?

Liam:
I represent the Angostura Group of Companies as a musical ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago at various trade fairs around the world.  Besides that, I travel to many Universities with Steelband programs as a clinician and soloist.  I suggest that people look up my website www.liamteague.net to keep abreast of what I do.


Basement Recordings:
8.  How do you feel about the concept of the Panorama competition, is it a good thing, etc?
 

Liam:
If the concept of Panorama is considered an annual event at which arrangers and steelbands have the opportunity to display their creativity and vibrance with the idea being constructive competition, then I am all for it.  However, Panorama has become chiefly a competition that is more money driven than anything else.

  • How many people really benefit from the competition musically and /or financially? Of course, financially it is the arrangers and tuners.
     

  • Why is it that players spend countless hours learning a ten minute piece when it would only take a few hours if they were musically literate especially since most of our pannists have wonderful technique.
     

  • There is a strong bias that exists in the Panorama competition.  I often wonder why is it that the same bands get to the finals almost every year? I sometimes wish that bands could go on the stage anonymously and perform.  I think that it would eliminate a lot of that bias.
     

  • Adding to the point before, doesn't the governing body realize that with very few exceptions, the majority of the bands that are successful are the sponsored ones?  These bands can afford to have the best arrangers and tuners and hire by contract the so-called crack-shots.  It seems obvious to me.

 

 

Basement Recordings:
9.   Have you ever arranged for a Panorama competition, if not why, if yes, would you again?
 

Liam:
I arranged for Hillside Symphony when I was 15 years old.  At that time I held the record for the youngest arranger ever( I believe it now belongs to Atiba Williams).  I would love to arrange for Panorama again but I would go into it with no delusions of grandeur.  My main goal would be to bring something new to the competition musically, end of story! I have been told horror stories by arrangers about the compromises that they have had to make creatively because a member of the band or a listener on the corner found that the piece didn't have enough chromatic runs.  I would never want to subject myself to that kind of abuse.  However, I would give my composition ( arrangement) the best that I had and hopefully it would impress the judges enough to warrant a successful result.


 

Basement Recordings:
10.  Bradley, Boogsie, Jit, Greenidge to name a few -are considered legends in the pan world as players and/or arrangers.  They each have been around for sometime and naturally a new generation will follow.  Who do you see as up and coming (or arrived) that will fill their shoes?


Liam:
The aforementioned gentlemen honed their crafts at a period when i believe the sole driving force was the love of music and the desire to keep learning.  Today, in almost any aspect of life, people seem to be driven by the prospect of making a fast dollar and the longevity of the outcome means very little.  I see this as the main criticism with the new generation of pannists.  In the jazz world very few musicians go on stage without serious study of the past masters( Charlie Parker, Monk, Coltrane etc).  I do not know very many young pannists who have seriously emulated and analyzed the offerings of these " legends."  Many seem intent to create their own voice without digesting the melodic, harmonic and structural principles that have existed in the earlier music.  At the same time, there are a number of young enthusiasts who are carving out a name for themselves but unfortunately it is very difficult because the opportunities for them in which to do so are often blocked by some seasoned veterans.  Some of these veterans seems to forget that a door was once opened to them as well.  There are a number of young players and arrangers who have impressed me but I'll only name a few for now :

-  Mark Mosca ( a Canadian with Trinidadian roots).  This young man is probably the most talented young pannist of today.  His deep sense of pan history, tecnique,improvisational ability and knowledge of reading music certainly has put many smiles on my face.
 

-  Seion Gomez: A graduate of NIU.  His burning desire for Panorama arranging is certainly impressive.  Not only is he an exciting arranger to listen to but he is a very good soloist as well.
 

-  Darren Sheperd: The gentleman that introduced me to the Steelpan and the VAT 19 Fonclaire arranger-in-residence.  Very articulate and full of vision for the Steelband movement not to mention full of creativity which will definitely be more recognized in time to come.
 

- Natasha Joseph: Formerly of Pannaz.  This young lady has often been over shadowed by the more entertaining members of the band.  However what she brings to the table musically is without doubt on par with any of the new generation.
 

I am sure that there are numerous other players and arrangers out there.  The four I mentioned are just the first ones that came to my mind.  I would be very cautious about the prospect of anybody filling anybody's shoes though.  I do believe in people paying homage to the past but at the end of the day we all want to contribute out individual voices to the musical pot.

 

Basement Recordings:
11.  Where do you see yourself in ten years?

 

Liam:
I have a number of goals that I would like to achieve.  However none of these will be realized unless it is God's desire and I always keep this in mind.

a)  To bring a even greater awareness to the people of the world about our National Instrument and our country in general.

b)  To do my part towards the spiritual and musical growth of Trinidad and Tobago's young people.  I consider much of the messages that are preached in the music that the average youth of our country listens to, to be dangerous.  I am a very eclectic listener and my interests span from Beenie Man to Buju Banton to Mozart to Beethoven to Boogsie to Kitchener to Miles Davis et al.  The one commonality that all these music share to me is that I must gain something positive out of it otherwise it is not worth my time.

c)  To be in a position to either financially on my own and/or influence the more powerful individuals in society to set up institutions of learning for our youth.  This in turn will help the youth to " learn to fish" and keep the domino effect rolling.  In turn I hope that the effects of education will filter into other aspects of society including the eradication of diseases and the fostering of spiritual growth.

b)  On a personal level ,my main goal is simple: HAPPINESS.

I hope that i have been able to make a positive contribution to your website and to the Steelband fraternity on a whole and I do hope that I have done my part to at least make people think and question some of the accepted traditions that have existed in the Steelband world.

Peace, Love and Music...

Liam Teague

 

 


About Liam Teague

 

 

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Last modified: July 17, 2004