Pan Devils Steel Band to perform with world-class composer Liam Teague

The steel drum is good for a lot more than just cruise line commercials and poolside ambient music, and this week a group of student musicians is out to prove it. 

On Wednesday night, the ASU Pan Devils Steel Band will present a steel drum concert that mixes classical Trinidadian music with contemporary songs. The 20-student group will collaborate with world-renowned performer and composer Liam Teague to present a selection of his original works, plus a collection of mainstream hits ranging from Bob Marley to "Uptown Funk."

Alex Fragiskatos, a doctoral student majoring in percussion, is the director of the Pan Devils Steel Band. He said the band's concerts are much more lively than a typical university performance.

"Most of our stuff is upbeat, and the concerts aren't like an orchestra concert," Fragiskatos said. "People get up and dance. During the last concert we had, there was a conga line going in the concert hall. We usually perform music that's pretty uplifting, upbeat and exciting."

The steel drum band was founded in 1991 and is now a one-credit class that meets twice a week, with one showcase concert a semester. It also performs occasionally at several other venues around the community, including events at First Friday and the Musical Instrument Museum.

Fragiskatos said the highlight of this semester's cumulative concert has been the chance to bring in Teague, who is not only a native of Trinidad and Tobago but an international performer and a music professor at Northern Illinois University. Fragiskatos compared Teague's mastery of the steel drum to how Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, or how Itzhak Perlman plays the violin.

Considering Teague's acclaimed reputation, Fragiskatos said the chance for students to play alongside him is exciting.

"Liam Teague is phenomenal," he said. "He is very much responsible for new music being written — not just the classic socas and calypsos, but new contemporary-style music ... (He is) really trying to diversify steel drums and help them as an instrument."

As the band's director, Fragiskatos said he hopes the audience will walk away with a new appreciation for the instrument.

"Sometimes the steel pan is regarded as a novelty instrument, like, 'Oh, there's steel pan in this island commercial,'" Fragiskatos said. "'That's cute.' But to the Trinidadians, it's a national instrument that's important to their culture. It's a legitimate art form, and I want people to take that away (from this concert)."

Sarah Hartong is a second-year graduate student working on her MFA in flute performance. This is her second semester playing with the Pan Devils, and she said she enjoys having an outlet to express herself musically in a low-stress environment

"Since I'm a musician and a graduate student, I've participated in a lot of concerts on the stage as a performer," Hartong said. "So far my experience as a member of the steel drum ensemble is unlike any performing experience I've ever had. The level of energy your fellow musicians have ... is incredible. If you talk to the other music majors they'll tell you the same thing. The amount of joy and happiness you're able to portray through the music — you don't get that many other places as a musician."

She said after a long day of practicing the flute, it's been refreshing to work on something new with a motivated group of people. She also added that she's looking forward to working with Teague, whom she dubbed the "who's-who" of steel pan.

Aerospace engineering junior Matt Askins said he joined the band last semester after he watched his brother perform with the Pan Devils and decided to give it a try.

"It's a fun thing and a nice stress reliever to be able to go there twice a week, play music and have fun with it," Askins said. "It does take practice and time, but overall it actually helps me with my schoolwork by having an outlet."

He also said he is excited for Wednesday's performance because he enjoys the environment and he's excited to work with Teague. 

"I always love performing," Askins said. "Plus to have this special opportunity with Liam, someone who's so good with the instrument, to see that but also to be able to perform alongside him, is really exciting."

The Pan Devils Steel Band spring concert will be held at Katzin Concert Hall beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. More information can be found on the ASU Events website, or the event's Facebook page.

Related links:

ASU percussion ensembles will come together for one loud evening

Guitars, computers, percussion, oh my! ASU Hybrid Ensemble's upcoming concert


Reach the reporter at skylar.mason@asu.edu or follow @skylarmason42 on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.