Clinicians & Adjudicators
Meet Tracy Thornton, steelpannist, recording artist, performer, composer, clinician, producer, and drummer/percussionist. With a career spanning over 30 years, Tracy has established himself as an innovator and creator in the world of steelpan.
Tracy's contributions extend far beyond the stage, as he is known for sharing his wealth of steelpan knowledge at universities, colleges, public schools, and communities around the globe. Culturally, he has crossed four continents from the U.S. to Hawaii, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, England, Netherlands, France, and the Caribbean. He is often spotted performing with different bands at the prestigious Trinidad and Tobago Panorama competition.
Tracy's innovative steelpan style and fresh compositions have earned him a dedicated following for the fusion of steelpan music with the sound of rock, punk, and heavy metal. He boasts an impressive catalog of over CDs, with his compositions as a staple in steel band performances worldwide.
Tracy's impact reaches beyond the stage. His music has been featured in popular television shows like "NCIS: LA," "Workaholics," and even "Keeping Up With The Kardashians." Not to mention, his tracks have found their way into the hit video game "Fortnite."
In 2015, "Pan Rocks" made waves at PASIC in San Antonio, TX, with over 80 talented players. Tracy's collaborations include sharing the stage with renowned artists like Mike Portnoy, John Blackwell, Greg Bissonette, and Stephen Perkins. Fast forward to 2017, and Tracy assembled a group of pan players in Hollywood to produce the immersive "Pan Rocks Project LA." This project featured music legends like Billy Sheehan, Tracii Guns, and Bruce Kulick. The success of this venture led to the "Pan Rocks RUSH" sessions, a tribute to the iconic band "RUSH." Notably, in 2020, Pan Rocks joined forces with Mike Portnoy, Stu Hamm, and Matt Starr to pay tribute to the late Neil Peart, the legendary drummer of Rush, at the NAMM Show.
During COVID lockdown, Tracy spearheaded two groundbreaking virtual music projects. The first with 100 pan players from eight different countries, collaborating with Stephen Perkins to perform The Who's "Baba O'Riley." This initiative evolved into the "Pan In Unity Project," the world's largest steelpan virtual recording, involving 700 participants from 25 countries. Tracy also featured in various other virtual projects, including the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash and the "Drum Him Out" video with drumming greats like Steve Gadd and Mark Schulman.
Tracy also teamed up with electric violinist Mark Wood and the University of Miami of Ohio Steelband to merge steelpan with orchestra strings, resulting in a groundbreaking concert, “Steel & Strings,” featuring over 175 musicians on a single arena stage.
As an innovator he is a critical part of the team that created the “Steelpan Pick Up”, to amplify the sound of the steelpan instrument either while on the move, in the studio or on stage. With the advent of the Pan Pickup, Tracy has created his own sound by seamlessly being able to incorporate sound effects with the steelpan.
Tracy's skills extend to the studio, where he lays down steelpan, drum and percussion tracks for various bands and artists, including record producer Andreao Fanatic Heard and the Canadian percussion act Jamani Duo. He records, mixes, and masters music at his studio, “Pans Rock Studios” for a diverse range of artists, from steelpan acts to rock bands and commercial projects.
A Luminary in Steelpan Culture
From the tender age of four, Vanessa’s musical journey began at Golden Hands, a musical institution founded by her mother, Franka Hills-Headley. Today, she stands as the Vice-President and Artistic Director of the organization, dedicated to nurturing young, gifted musicians. With 29 years under her belt as a musical Arranger, Composer, Educator, and steelpan devotee, Vanessa's accolades are numerous and noteworthy.
Her early musical prowess was evident when she clinched 1st place in the Caribbean at CSEC Music during her time at St. Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando. This achievement propelled her into the international arena, leading workshops in places like Delaware, U.S.A., and Dominica. Vanessa's commitment to education saw her teaching students at primary, secondary and tertiary school levels.
A graduate with honors from The UWI, St. Augustine, Vanessa's talents shone brightly in the original Steelpan Musical, "The Rainmakers." In 2011, she made history by becoming the first Steelpan musician to be selected for the Berklee College of Music All Star Funk Fusion Band and was awarded a unique scholarship. Yet, her heart remained in Trinidad, where she believed she could make the most significant impact. Her contributions to the steelpan community have been recognized nationally, with her selection as The National Youth in the sphere of Arts and Culture in 2015.
Vanessa's ground-breaking achievements include being the first steelpan arranger to compose, perform, and arrange an original composition for Trinidad and Tobago’s National Panorama. With the composition, Golden Hands won Panorama in 2018 (Small Band Caategory) In 2020, she became the first female to arrange for three conventional bands in the National Panorama Competition.
Internationally, Vanessa's compositions have resonated with audiences, leading to commissions from various entities. In Trinidad and Tobago, her works have graced events like the Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival and CARIFESTA XIV. Her dedication to music education led her to shape the curriculum at The University of Trinidad and Tobago’s Steelpan Certificate Program She is a music transciptionist and editor, and has worked on numerous publications including Dr. Len “Boogsie” Sharpe’s first book of original compositions.
Beyond her professional achievements, Vanessa's philanthropy is evident in her two-decade-long support for the Combined Disabilities of Trinidad and Tobago. She also hosts the internationally acclaimed steelpan radio show, "Steelpan City" on WACK 90.1FM. Vanessa holds a Master’s in Psychology for Musicians from the University of Sheffield, UK, further solidifying her holistic approach to music and its impact on society.
Liam Teague is Professor of Music and Director of Steelpan Studies at Northern Illinois University (NIU), where he also leads the renowned NIU Steelband. Teague is the recipient of an NIU Board of Trustees Professorship Award (2022) and a Presidential Research, Scholarship and Artistry Professor Award (2018).
Hailed as the “Paganini of the Steelpan”, his commitment to demonstrating the great musical possibilities of the steelpan has taken him to throughout the world, and he has received many awards from his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago, including the Hummingbird National Award (Silver) and the Ansa McAl Caribbean Award for Excellence. In 2022, The San Fernando City Council honored Teague with the Keys to the City of San Fernando, his hometown in Trinidad and Tobago. He is also the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council (IACA) 2023 Artist Fellowship Award.
Teague has won several notable competitions such as the Trinidad and Tobago National Steelband Festival Solo Championship and the Saint Louis Symphony Volunteers Association Young Artist Competition. He has also performed with many diverse ensembles which include National Symphony Orchestra, Taiwan National Symphony, Czech National Symphony, Saint Louis Symphony, Panama National Symphony, Chicago Sinfonietta, Vermeer String Quartet, Avalon String Quartet, Hannaford Street Silver Brass Ensemble, Nexus, Dartmouth Wind Ensemble, Indiana University Symphonic Band, University of Wisconsin-Madison Marching Band, Nutrien Silver Stars Steel Orchestra, and the BpTT Renegades Steel Orchestra.
Teague has appeared in concert with Grammy-Award winning musicians Paquito D’Rivera, Dave Samuels, Zakir Hussain and Dame Evelyn Glennie, and has regularly collaborated with NIU colleagues Robert Chappell(multi-instrumentalist) and Faye Seeman(harp) with whom he co-founded the steelpan and harp duo Pangelic.
He has also presented and performed at several Percussive Arts Society International Conventions (PASIC) and educational institutions across the globe. Liam Teague has served as an adjudicator for many events including the International Pan Ramajay Competition and Virginia Arts Festival- PANorama Caribbean Music Festival.
Many of his compositions and arrangements are published with MaumauMusic, PanPress, RamajayMusic, Wendeln Music Works, and he has commissioned outstanding composers to write for the steelpan, including Michael Colgrass, Jan Bach, Libby Larsen, Andy Akiho, Deborah Fisher Teason, Joey Sellers, Ben Wahlund, Erik Ross, Kevin Bobo, David Gordon, Robert Chappell, Geof Bradfield, Casey Cangelosi, Gustavo Leone, Victor Provost, Etienne Charles, James Gourlay, and Reggie Thomas.
He served as steelband director at Birch Creek Music Performance Center in Door County, Wisconsin, and has also taught and performed at the California State University Summer Arts Camp and at the Interlochen Academy for the Performing Arts.
Teague is also the author of a steelpan method for beginners published by the Hal Leonard Corporation, the world’s largest publisher of print music.
Liam Teague has created arrangements for Panorama, the most celebrated steelband competition in the world, for Nutrien Silver Stars Steel Orchestra, Harvard Harps Steel Orchestra, Starlift Steel orchestra, and Skiffle Steel Orchestra. He has many recordings to his credit, including Hands Like Lightning, For Lack of Better Words, Panoramic: Rhythm Through an Unobstructed View, Open Window, and Sorcerer.
Tom Miller’s vast experience as a performing percussionist, steel drummer, composer, arranger and educator has made him one of the most respected and sought after soloists and clinicians today. Tom has performed worldwide with his own popular group Pan Ramajay, with other notable pan artists, Andy Narell, Ray Holman, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, and Othello Molineaux. Tom has also been a featured guest performer at Trinidad and Tobago’s annual “Pan and Jazz Festival,” on several occasions. Other collaborations have produced work with Calypso vocal artist, David Rudder; jazz drummer, Peter Erskine; percussionist, Luis Conte; composer, Vince Mendoza; bassist Michael Manring; woodwind virtuoso, Paul McCandless; Germany’s famed WDR Big Band; the Berkeley Symphony under the direction of Kent Nagano and as a member of the Windham Hill recording group, Montreux. He has added his unique style of percussive touch to numerous recordings covering a variety of musical styles with artists such as Grammy award winners, Allison Krause and the late John Denver, and Venezuelan songstress, Maria Marquez. Tom’s playing has also been featured on film scores for the movies, Commando, Nina Takes a Lover, and The Mystic Masseur, as well as ads for Minute Maid, Sony, the SIMs computer games and many others.
Tom is equally as comfortable in the studio as a producer having produced and mixed several critically acclaimed steel band recordings for his own group, Pan Ramajay, as well as master pannist, Ray Holman, The Chabot Panhandlers Steel Orchestra, the Miami University Steel Band and the Lamont Steel Drum Ensemble. He is the founder of the chamber steel drum ensemble, Pan Nation, a steel drum octet performing original compositions composed by the group’s members and recently releasing their debut EP recording, “Altered Perception.”
Tom’s composing talents have earned him grants from the prestigious Meet the Composer Foundation on five occasions, fostering the creation, performance and education of audiences through his compositions featuring steel drums and percussion. This dedication to musical education has won Tom many invitations as an artist in residence at numerous universities and colleges throughout the U.S. He currently is the director of Steel Drum Ensembles at the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music as well as the founder and director of the Pan Ramajay Summer Steel Drum Festival, in Denver, CO, occurring annually in July. He has also served on the faculty of the JAZZ School in Berkeley, CA, the Mannette Steel Drum Workshop in Morgantown, WV, the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, the Lamont Summer Academy, and the University of Delaware Summer Steel Drum Workshop.
Tom is the founder and president of one of the foremost steel drum music publishing companies, Pan Ramajay Productions (www.ramajay.com), which features Tom’s own compositions and recordings as well as those of other prominent steel drum composers worldwide.
Akua Leith is a Fulbright Fellow who graduated from the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Musical Arts, as well as, the Northern Illinois University (NIU) with a Masters of Music in Conducting with an emphasis on Steelpan Performance. Prior to pursuing graduate studies, he performed with the National Steel Symphony Orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago as a full-time Musician. He was appointed to the position of Artistic Director/Conductor of the Orchestra in 2016. Akua is now the Founder and Director of Sales and business development of Musical Instruments of Trinidad and Tobago - MITTCO a new steelpan manufacturing company in Diego Martin.
Mr. Leith started playing the steelpan at the age of twelve when he entered South East Port of Spain Secondary School. To complement his natural playing abilities, he later attended classes in music theory at the Trinity All Generation School of the Arts (TAGS) in Port of Spain. Two years after joining TAGS as a student, he was selected to be a Steelpan Tutor and Arranger at the school. He was eventually promoted to the positions of Vice Principal of Performance as well as Music Director of the TAGS Prodigies ensemble.
As a performer, Mr. Leith has toured extensively while promoting the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. He has participated in tours throughout Europe, Asia, North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. While pursuing graduate studies, he performed with the NIU World Steelband, under the direction of Liam Teague and steelpan pioneer Clifford Alexis. He was also afforded the opportunity to conduct the NIU Wind Ensemble under the direction of Dr. Ronnie Wooten. Mr. Leith also co-directed the University Steelband at NIU and served as one of the Graduate Assistants for the NIU World Steelband.
Mr. Leith is committed to the promotion of the steelpan instrument and the demonstration of its versatility with all genres of music. He has chosen to contribute to this promotion through conducting, performing, composing, creating arrangements and educating others. He has had the opportunity to work with students of all ages and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. His teaching experience in Trinidad and Tobago includes being a Part-Time Lecturer at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as, a Steelpan Tutor at TAGS, Holistic Music School, Cascade Servol Life Centre, the Music Schools in the Panyard initiative and the City Angels music programme. While in the United States of America, he taught, conducted workshops and created arrangements with several groups, including, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra Steel Orchestra (CYSO Steel Orchestra), Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFÉ), based in Washington DC, Naperville High School in Illinois, and Birch Creek Music Performance Center, Wisconsin.
Some of Mr. Leith’s other accomplishments include successfully leading various ensembles into competitions. Groups such as TAGS, Chord Masters Steel Orchestra (Single pan category), and Pan-Demonium Steel Orchestra have all emerged as winners or finalists under his direction. At the 2010 Trinidad and Tobago Biennial Music Festival competition championship, he led TAGS to capture the first places in both the Steel Ensemble category and the Chamber Steelpan Orchestra category. Recently, Mr. Leith undertook the role of Music Director for Errol Hill’s widely acclaimed “Man Better Man” produced by The National Theatre Arts Company in conjunction with UTT’s Academy for the Performing Arts.