NIU Steelband pays tribute to late founder


The NIU Steelband performed a memorial concert, in honor of founder G. Allen O’Conner, Sunday in the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall in the Music Building.

By Chris Plumery

DeKALB – The NIU Steelband performed alongside the All University Steelband and Community School for the Arts Steelband Sunday afternoon inside Boutell Memorial Concert Hall at the Music Building. The concert was dedicated to the late G. Allan O’Connor, who passed in June and was the founder of the NIU Steelband.

The concert was crowded with over 100 audience members filling the hall. Hatch Steelband, a group made up of children from Hatch Elementary School, 1000 N. Ridgeland Ave., Oak Park, IL, attended the performance as well.

The concert kicked off with NIU Steelband director Liam Teague taking a moment to talk about O’Connor. Teague said, “O’Connor was an amazing human, a fantastic teacher and a visionary in his own right.” Teague thanked the crowd for coming and introduced the NIU Steelband. The band took their positions and looked into the crowd.

Then the show began.

The first song of the night, “Gigue,” was played by the NIU Steelband, and the performance was quite impressive. It was an up-tempo song, and the sound was tuneful above all else.

This led into a performance with special guest conductor Ronnie Wooten, a friend of O’Connor. He told a story of O’Connor asking Wooten two years ago to be the conductor of the band. Wooten was nervous about conducting. He asked O’Connor, “Why me?” and O’Connor replied, “Why not you?” Wooten said 

After his story, Wooten conducted a song with the NIU Steelband that has been played after major events including after the assasination of John F. Kennedy and 9/11. The song was called “Adagio for Strings,” and it was beautiful and soothing to the ears. 

The next band to perform was the All University Steelband. Members of the band played a song called “Squirrels” and using instruments like the drums and the steel pan. The crowd reacted with cheers, and the performance lead into the third band.

The CSA Steelband, lead by Yuko Asada, was up next. The CSA Steelband is a community steelband made up of older band members. A few members had no previous experience playing the steel pan or with music in general, but that was barely recognizable. 

The group performed “Fields of Gold” by Sting, and the crowd danced along. The band clapped in unison near the end of the performance, and the crowd joined in receptively.

Teague then came out before intermission and called up O’Connor’s wife and children. O’Connor’s wife, Julie, spoke about her husband and said she felt humbled. She thanked Teague and the NIU Steelband for putting on the show and presented a painting of O’Connor that will be hung in the Music Building.

Teague then introduced the next song “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon, which he said was one of O’Connor’s favorites. The crowd seemed to have been waiting with anticipation. 

The bands played a few more songs that led into a song called “Cell ’O Vibes” which was an amazing solo performance by Jaron Woodsley who is a part of the NIU Steelband. Woodsley played the cello steel pan.

The NIU Steelband came out of both sides of the stage to watch the performance and Woodsley did not disappoint. He had the audience in the palm of his hands, and he got a great amount of applause from the crowd. 

The night ended with Asada back up to the microphone, and she talked about the NIU Steelband going through a lot of deaths recently, including her husband Clifford Alexis. Alexis was a part of the Steelband program at NIU.

Asada stood center stage spoke of how both husband and O’Connor’s music impacted the bands culture. She left the crowd with a statement before they performed. “All the wonderful musicians are gone, but their work is still here with us,” Asada said. 

The NIU Steelband performed “Pan Ecstasy” to end the concert and the sad turn the concert had taken on earlier shifted into positivity. Some of the band members jumped off the stage and into the crowd.

The audience got out of its seats and danced along with the band. The night ended with the audience members having big smiles on their faces as they walked out of the hall.