by Mark McGowan
Less than a minute after Robert Chappell first heard steelpannist Liam Teague’s “hands like lightning,” he knew what he must do.
“When Liam first came to NIU in January of 1993, everybody obviously recognized him as a major talent. You heard him play for 30 seconds, and you knew what he had going on,” says Chappell, a Distinguished Teaching Professor and head of percussion studies in the NIU School of Music. “You always want to play with someone of that caliber. It’s the goal of any musician.”
Sixteen years later, the duo is in-demand performers and clinicians around the world.
Chappell and Teague have recorded one CD, “For Lack of Better Words,” and a second is in production. They formed a band named Panoramic and tour when possible. They teach together each summer in Wisconsin at Birch Creek Music Performance Center, where Chappell is program director for percussion and steelpan and Teague is artist in residence.
Their travels, especially to statewide percussion festivals around the country where students are in attendance, double as amazing recruitment tools for NIU.
At 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, Chappell and Teague will bring their percussion magic to a hometown show in the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall. The concert is free, and the auditorium is accessible to all.
The concert on NIU’s campus – the pair’s first in three or four years – will feature classical solos and ensembles for the steelpan as well as world-jazz compositions in calypso, Afro-Cuban and Indian styles.
Highlights include Chappell’s award-winning “Open Window” for steelpan and marimba, which will be expanded to include a traditional wooden drum from Peru and bass, and Teague’s “Cell-O-Vibes” for cello steelpan.
NIU alum Ben Wahlund will return to help play his “True North,” composed for steelpan, piano and three percussionists. Members of Panoramic will perform Teague’s “Dougla” and Chappell’s “Nikkara.”
Rich Holly, acting dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, will team with Chappell to recreate their hilarious version of “Dueling Xylophones.”
For NIU listeners, Chappell says, it’s not only a chance to hear an international virtuoso of steelpan but to witness his continued mission to elevate the status of the steelpan in the musical world.
Teague, who is head of steelpan studies at NIU and co-director of the famed NIU Steel Band, studied classical violin for years before he turned his attention to the pan.
Appropriately, one of his performances March 18 originally was composed for violin. Teague will employ three pans to cover the range of the violin, Chappell says, and zip between them to flawlessly duplicate the work of a bow on strings.
At other times, Teague easily can knock out Indian ragas or improvise on complicated jazz charts with the incomparable skills of Charlie Parker.
“Our audience will leave with a greater respect for the steelpan if they haven’t already heard what Liam can do with it,” Chappell says. “Liam is the only person in the world who can play steelpan in any style, from classical to raga to jazz to world music.”