A WST Exclusive
-- Liam Teague
WST - “First of all congratulations on a successful panorama season. Great music.”
“This year you went with your own composition ‘Panoramic’ instead of an outside tune. Any special reason?”
Liam T. - “The decision was made mainly because I did not have the luxury of being in Trinidad for the entire Carnival season due to my teaching responsibilities at Northern Illinois University and my hectic performing schedule; as a result, it was important to secure a song ASAP, so that the arrangement could be completed in a timely manner.”
WST - “Is there any advantage to using your own composition?”
Liam T. “I feel comfortable arranging whether the piece is my composition or not; however, in this instance, I had more time to create the arrangement, and this was especially important given how short the 2016 season was.”
WST - “The behavioral patterns of how people access and listen to music have changed dramatically over the years with the advancements in audio/video streaming technology. Does the argument of songs being used by the bands ‘not getting sufficient air play’ to make pan fans familiar with the songs before the Panorama event, still hold any water - since there are so many other ways for steelpan music fans - particular those who plan to attend Panorama - to access the songs on demand?”
Liam T. - “It is an argument made ritually which I believe is not valid in most instances. Access to pan-related songs is much easier today, particularly if one is passionate about hearing them. I would make an exception for those who may not frequent the internet or know how to navigate it. Most radio stations in Trinidad and Tobago very rarely play “pan songs,” so that can also make access challenging.
“On a related note, I would like to encourage the public to visit panyards during Panorama (and, of course, during the course of the year), so that they can familiarize themselves with the full arrangements and also witness the process of how these works of art come together. I think that it is impossible for anyone to fully digest a Panorama arrangement after a single listening, so consistent panyard attendance would certainly help to make the listening experience a more educated and informed one. Folks would be exposed to subtleties, intricacies and nuances that often get lost at Panorama, or even on the best of recordings, if one is not musically engaged or cognizant of what is taking place.
“If the arranger was open to giving a synopsis to the spectators about the arrangement (I certainly would be), that would be an added incentive.”
Silver Stars Steel Orchestra on stage for Panorama 2016 Finals
WST - “‘Panoramic’ can be considered both a history lesson and a paying of homage to the brilliance and sacrifices of those who have contributed much to the steelpan movement. In addition it calls for proper recognition of the instrument, its history and the steelpan music art form. If you were placed in charge of making this happen where would you start?”
Liam T. - “I think a good place to start would be in the educational institutions of Trinidad and Tobago, including the ‘universities’ of the panyards. The general populace should be taught about the pan’s rich history.
“When I arrived to Northern Illinois University (NIU) as an 18-year-old, I had very little knowledge about the sacrifices that the pioneers of this instrument made. I became more enlightened over time, especially because I was around the legendary Clifford Alexis (co-director of the NIU Steelband and one of the world’s most celebrated steelpan artisans and figures) - a man who was part of that embryonic generation of steelpan musicians which had to deal with numerous hardships.
“Cliff Alexis has also played a pivotal role in the development of the steelband and he is quite proud to see the astronomical strides that have been made since the pan’s formative years. He makes it a point to remind all of us at NIU just how fortunate we are, and it is very common for him to become extremely emotional when recounting the battles that he and his contemporaries were part of.
“So, I have been in the fortuitous position of receiving first-hand accounts of pan’s incredible history from luminaries like Cliff Alexis, and this has instilled in me a deeper sense of gratitude for the blood, sweat and tears that were shed.
“I believe that this type of education could be influential in reshaping the image that the general public may have of the steelband and its practitioners today.
“For example, the average person in T&T (Trinidad & Tobago) still believes that Winston “Spree” Simon was the inventor of the steelpan. While he no doubt was a seminal figure, the contributions of Anthony Williams, Ellie Mannette, Neville Jules, Rudolph Charles and a host of others, are unknown to most. One of the goals of “Panoramic” was to implore us to respect the genius that is ours.
Cliff Alexis, Neville Jules and Liam Teague
“I also think that education would play an indelible role in the progress of the steelpan from a business perspective. The principle of supply and demand comes to mind. There is no denying that the supply is there, but the average Trinbagonian does not crave steelpan music with a passion, so the second part of the equation, the demand, is sorely lacking.
“The steelpan’s magic has conquered the hearts of so many across the world; unfortunately, in the land of its birth, it is often relegated to the status of a second-class citizen (this is certainly not a revelation on my part- the sentiment has been echoed ad nauseam by countless others). We need to be more creative in the ways that we market this instrument, especially to folks who may not necessarily be steelpan aficionados.
“We in the steelpan fraternity also have the responsibility of supporting each other. Let’s attend steelpan events, purchase recordings and accessories, take an active interest in, and be more respectful of, the creative output of ensembles/arrangers/soloists, etc., which we may not necessarily have personal allegiances to. When we look at the bigger picture, we all will prosper.
“I remain steadfast in my mission to be a part of the solution(s) to the challenges that plague the steelband universe. There are many, many others who are committed to highlighting the pan’s profundity, and I do believe that the sky is the limit for this unique instrument.
“However, it may take a massive coming together of like-minded stakeholders to see pan’s potential sore to even greater heights.”
WST - “A very well-known cultural leader and educator lamented during the carnival season in an interview that there were young people who could not name one steel orchestra. How can such a thing be possible in Trinidad the land of pan?”
Liam T. - “I think my response to the previous question also applies here. Even when one walks into Piarco International Airport [in Trinidad] it is very difficult to find pictures of steelpan icons and steelbands-- no such difficulty with respect to Soca stars, mind you (no disrespect intended).
“We are speaking about one of, if not the, most unique and ingenious instruments invented in the history of the world. How can we be so nonchalant about it?
“Honestly, in many instances, when the steelpan does receive recognition in its homeland, it feels obligatory and disingenuous. I think that this can change, but we must make certain demands of ourselves and of others.”
WST - “In terms of your arrangement for Silver Stars and their performance, what did you want the audience to leave with after experiencing the live performance?”
Liam T. - “The late, great Edwin Pouchet’s (former arranger for Silver Stars, and the man who handpicked me to arrange for the band) philosophy was that people could elect to stay home and listen to Panorama; however, if they attended the event, he wanted to give them a performance that they would not soon forget. His credo was: “Win, lose or draw, people will always remember Silver Stars.” I share his sentiment and, as a result, I wanted our entire presentation to be memorable, edifying and entertaining.”
WST - “This year’s performance was entertaining, thoughtful, musically challenging and visually stimulating. Has Liam Teague now found his voice in Panorama?”
Liam T. - “This is a difficult question and may be better-answered by people not named “Liam Teague” LOL. I will never be totally satisfied with my creative output, so I don’t know if I will ever find a singular voice as an artiste. I am a perpetual student who is always trying to evolve.
“What I consistently try to create is music which is thought-provoking, has integrity, entertaining, and, hopefully, will lead the band to victory.”
WST - “In Panorama there is the challenge of meeting the performance criteria for the judges while at the same time not stifling your creativity and bringing excitement to the Panorama canvas. This year you seemed more comfortable than ever in doing that. You’ve added new textures and colors to the Panorama landscape. Is this a result of your personal growth, or more the orchestra being more comfortable with the persona and musical vision of Liam Teague?”
Liam T. - “Just trying to find a balance.
“At the end of the day, I want to create an arrangement that will spur the band on to the Panorama championship. I want the band, management, supporters, spectators and adjudicators to be pleased.
“At the same time, I don’t want to simply adhere to the status quo—doing that goes against the grain of everything that I have stood for as an artiste and, in my humble opinion, is sacrilegious to the progressive vision of pan’s forefathers. As the great musician Frank Zappa said: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”.”
WST - “Let’s talk about Panorama. In spite of its quirkiness, warts, unpredictability - Panorama is still the most beautiful place on the planet to be on Finals night to watch and listen to the best in the world do what they do in this genre. Liam Teague has successfully navigated these waters, bringing a drama-filled, operatic approach to Panorama storytelling that is uniquely yours - but still embracing the spirit of carnival and traditions of Trinidad/Tobago music. The old people say with age comes wisdom. What have you learned in relationship to Trinidad and Tobago Panorama?”
Liam T. - “Thank you for your very kind compliment. I really hope that the public enjoys what I bring to the table.
“Panorama also has the power to put arrangers in creative shackles, as one can often feel pressure to create a piece of work which is predominantly designed to meet the nod of adjudicators. Failure to reap positive results can have long-term and devastating consequences, one of which is that an arranger may be out of a job, thus impacting his/her ability to provide for their family.
“I have been very fortunate to be able to work with Silver Stars.
“The sponsors, PCS Nitrogen, and the ensemble’s management believe in my vision and they understand that I have the band’s best interest at heart. They are also cognizant of the fact that Edwin Pouchet’s decision to appointment me as Silver Stars’ arranger was not based on my ability to guarantee a Panorama victory. He had respect for my musicianship and was aware of my mission to be a catalyst for change and to represent Trinidad and Tobago positively.”
WST - “When all is said and done, how does Liam Teague want to be known in relationship to the boundaries of Panorama music. A- smashed the boundaries, B- redefined the boundaries, C- walked through the boundaries or D - jumped over the boundaries.”
Liam T. - “I simply want to create music that will touch the heart, soul and intellect of the masses. If that brings Panorama victory one day, then that would be the icing on the cake.”
Silver Stars Steel Orchestra performing “Panoramic” at Panorama 2016
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