1. What is your role at NIU?
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 Steelpan ( 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
Musicians are your role models?
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)..
3. If "Pan is in Danger", how do you think it can be saved?
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
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
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
4. Why do you
believe the future the pannists have in front of them is bleak?
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.
the opportunity, how would you go about educating the pannists in
Trinidad and abroad?
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.
6. Do you
participate in any carnival activities in Trinidad ( i.e. Panorama?)
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.
7. Do you
participate in any carnival or cultural activities outside of
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.
8. How do you
feel about the concept of the Panorama competition, is it a good
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.
you ever arranged for a Panorama competition, if not why, if yes,
would you again?
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
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?
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
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.
11. Where do
you see yourself in ten years?
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
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...
About Liam Teague