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ASU School of Music’s percussionists heat up Gammage with Rhythmic Variations

March 01, 2002

WHAT: Rhythmic Variations Percussion Concert

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., (Saturday) March 23

WHERE: Gammage Auditorium, 1200 South Forest Avenue, Tempe

TICKETS: $8 general, $6 students and senior citizens, call 480-965-3434

INFORMATION: 480-965-3434

Rhythmic music from around the world comes together for one night at Gammage Auditorium on March 23. Featured on the program are three percussion ensembles from the School of Music in the Herberger College of Fine Arts at ASU: the Contemporary Percussion Ensemble directed by J. B. Smith, the Pan Devils Steel Band directed by Keith Lienert, and the African Drum and Percussion Jazz Ensembles led by Mark Sunkett. Special guests are Liam Teague and Robert Chappell.

The Contemporary Percussion Ensemble will present an early work for percussion ensemble: Lou Harrison's Labyrinth No. 3 for 11 percussionists. “One of the first major work for percussion ensemble, it shows how composers in the early 20th century turned to the instruments of percussion to create new sounds and focus attention on the rhythmic properties of music,” explains J.B. Smith, director of percussion studies at ASU and organizer of the Rhythmic Variations concert. “Harrison drew from the sounds and styles of music from other cultures, unusual and found instruments, and the traditional Western orchestra to write his music.”

Formed in 1990, the Pan Devils Steel Band at ASU has been performing regularly in the Valley at corporate engagements, street fairs, parties and special events. Keith Lienert leads the Pan Devils in a program of traditional and contemporary calypso, pop, Latin and classical music.

The ASU African Drum Ensemble will present Sabar rhythms from Senegal and the Jembe rhythms from Mali and Guinea. “Both the Mande and Wolof ethnic groups are found in West Africa but the drumming they do is quite different,” notes Smith. “The Sabar ensemble uses a hand and stick technique which provides sharp and contrasting high and low pitches on seven different drums. The resultant rhythms are almost melodic in character. Many of the rhythms are based on the Wolof language as it is spoken. The Jembe, played with both hands, was originally a war drum used for rituals and initiation ceremonies. Now this drum can be found all over the world with its captivating sounds of power and strength. With a cadre of large and small bass drums called jun juns, the sound of this ensemble will fill the hall.”

The Percussion Jazz Ensemble gives student percussionists the opportunity to spread their improvisational wings in arrangements of jazz standards.

Guest artists Teague and Chappell have joined forces to create an international blend of musical styles. The concert will showcase Chappell's composition, Wood-N-Steel for steel pans, Amadinda xylophone, percussion ensemble and African Drums. Teague and Chappell are finishing work on a new duo CD to be released this spring. They perform together in the Liam Teague/Robert Chappell Duo and the Liam Teague Caribbean Jazz Group.

Hailed as a prodigy in his native Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies, Liam Teague won his first national steelpan competition at the age of 13, one year after he began playing the instrument. Since then, every step in Liam's musical development has focused on his goal of taking the steelpan from the street to its place in the musical pantheon. It will take a virtuoso to lift the pan to this new height – just like Andres Segovia transformed the maligned guitar into a solo instrument – and Liam Teague may well be that person.

Teague premiered the Jan Bach’s Concerto for Steelpan and Orchestra, with the Chicago Symphonietta in 1995 at Orchestra Hall. Since then he has performed this piece with eight orchestras, including the Czech National Philharmonic, the Buffalo Symphony, the Sinfonia da Camera and the St. Louis Symphony as its national concerto competition winner.

His performances have been universally praised: “Liam Teague is a certified virtuoso. Wielding his mallets at top speed, he unleashed cascades of sound as dazzling as the violin arpeggios and cadenzas of a Midori or a Gil Shahm,” (Chicago Sun-Times) John Von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “In soft lyrical passages Teague coaxed sweet, bell-like tones from the soprano steelpan . . . In the neo-baroque Toccata finale he seemed the musical equivalent of Leroy Burrell running the 100-meter dash . . . The audience exploded in cheers and whistles refusing to let Teague leave the stage until he had given them a solo encore.

In November of 2001, Teague premiered his second concerto for pan and orchestra, Three Fantasies for Steelpan and Orchestra by Joey Sellers. He has released four CD's on the Engine Room label, including Hands Like LightningEmotions of SteelImpressions and the 2000 release,Teague/Tappin. He has performed throughout North American and the Caribbean as soloist with orchestras, in recital with the Liam Teague/Robert Chappell Duo, as soloist with college steel bands, and with the Liam Teague Caribbean Jazz Group. Teague received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in steelpan performance from Northern Illinois University, studying with Al O'Connor and Clifford Alexis. He has recently received an appointment as a Research Scholar at NIU where he teaches steelpan majors from the United States, Trinidad, Jamaica and Grenada.

Robert Chappell's career has encompassed an inclusive range of musical styles and genres in performance, education and composition. After receiving degrees in percussion performance from The Ohio State University and the University of North Texas, Chappell’s interest in world percussion resulted in continued study of Ugandan amadinda xylophone, West African drumming, and East Indian tabla (Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri). He received an Indo-American Research Fellowship in 1990 for study with renowned tabla master Ustad Alla Rakha in Bombay, India.

He has performed with the Columbus, Fort Worth, Dallas and Indianapolis Symphonies, and toured and recorded with the Paul Winter Consort and his own world-jazz group, Rhythmic Union. Active as an educator for 24 years, Chappell has taught at the University of North Texas and Indiana State University, and is professor of music and head of percussion studies at Northern Illinois University. He is also program director at the Birch Creek Music Center in Door County, Wisconsin, where he leads the Percussion/Steel Band Camp every summer.

A composer in contemporary, jazz and cross-cultural idioms, Chappell’s works have been published by Marimba Productions, Panyard and Pan Press. His steel band composition, Wood-N-Steel was premiered by the Northern Illinois University Steel Band at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, and an orchestrated version has been performed with the Chicago Symphonietta, the Rockford Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic. Wood-N-Steel was the top scoring composition in the World Steelband Festival 2000 held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, as The Northern Illinois University Steel Band placed second in the world in competition with six international and 11 Trinidadian steel bands.

Media Contact:
Mary Brennan