NIU today | NIU awards steelpan innovator Anthony Williams honorary doctorate in human letters

As an innovator in the science and art of steelpan, Williams has made a unique impact on NIU, contributing to the success of steelpan faculty, staff and countless students.

NIU is one of the world’s leading universities for steelpan / pan studies. The Steelband program was initiated by the late G. Allan O’Connor in 1973, who later brought on board the late Clifford Alexis, himself an honorary doctorate holder from the NIU in 2017, to build and tune instruments. for the NIU Steelband, as well as to arrange, compose and possibly co-lead the group. The program has attracted students, famous performers, composers and lecturers from many sectors of the world, including the birthplace of steelpan, Trinidad and Tobago.

The NIU Steelband has performed in many international and national venues, and even won second place at the World Steelband Music Festival 2000 held in Trinidad, which is no small feat for a college ensemble. NIU Steelpan graduates continue to make their mark as educators at the University of the West Indies, the University of Trinidad and Tobago, and many other educational institutions around the world. They also appear regularly in respected concert halls and their creative works are regularly featured at events such as the Super Bowl of steelband competitions, Panorama.

Anthony Williams’ impact on the steelpan art form cannot be overstated. Many of his groundbreaking innovations were made during a period that posed significant challenges to the ancestors of the steelpan; indeed, the Steelpan universe owes a great debt of gratitude to visionaries like Williams.

For Liam Teague, Presidential Research, Artistry and Scholarship Professor, Professor of Music, Head of Steelpan Studies and Director of the NIU Steelband, himself from Trinidad and Tobago, the opportunity to honor Williams means even more.

“I am in awe of these pioneers like Dr. Williams,” Teague said. “Due to the period in which they grew up, particularly when Trinidad was still a British colony, many of them did not gain the support of the general public. People viewed the instrument more as a novelty and those in the Steelpan fraternity were subject to constant disrespect. For most of us, if we’re doing something we’re passionate about and day after day people say you’re wasting your time and getting a real job, I think most of us would go elsewhere. I’m just impressed that these pioneers can maintain this focus and have this vision. People like me are truly the beneficiaries of so much of their hard work, sacrifice and courage. “

The steelpan is now recognized as the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, and it continues to captivate the hearts, souls and imaginations of people around the world. Without the unwavering perseverance and courage of Anthony Williams and many of his contemporaries, the legitimacy and depth of the steelpan, in such a short period of time, would never have borne fruit.

One of Williams’ innovations was what was then widely known as the Spider Web Pan.

Teague explains the innovation. “Before Anthony Williams, the placement of notes on most tenor pans (actually in the soprano scale) was haphazard, probably because the majority of steelpan pioneers had no formal music training, and much of what they were doing was by intuition.Williams created a design that was informed by the circle of fifths which caused a greater sense of uniformity; at that time, because the notes were all connected to each other, they looked like a spider’s web hence its nickname.Williams 4th and 5th tenor panel design remains the most performed in the world – and this is just one of its key innovations.

In 1968, Williams and North Stars performed with internationally renowned piano virtuoso Winnifred Atwell, Trinidad, Bahamas and New York, and produced the album Ivory & Steel, the first such recording. These types of collaborations have attracted a large number of new admirers and have served as sociological and musical barriers. Additionally, North Stars has been on several tours, including an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which saw them showcase their eclectic lineup, such as Voices of Spring by classical composer Johann Strauss III, and garner praise from musicians. notable, including the conductor Léopold Stokowski.

Watch: Images of Anthony Williams’ North Stars appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964

Williams’ pioneering work resonates directly in the research and experimentation of Dr. Thomas Rossing, former professor of physics at the NIU. Rossing’s curiosity for steelpan acoustics led to frequent collaborations with O’Connor and Alexis, and many of his findings have been featured prominently in his book The Science of Percussion Instruments, as well as in scholarly journals and presentations at national conferences. .

“Much of what we do here at NIU is directly influenced by the barrier-breaking philosophy of people like Anthony Williams,” said Teague. “Their vision and what they brought to the table.”

About Raymond Lang

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