Deborah Fischer Teason was born and raised in the Hudson River Valley and has studied and performed music since her early childhood. She began composing at the age of fourteen and received her degree in music theory and composition from Arizona State University where she premiered 25 works in five years, and studied composition privately with John Corigliano, Thea Musgrave and Martin Bresnick.
Ms. Teason has composed extensively for chamber ensemble, chorus, and orchestra. Over the past twenty years her commissions have included works for Opera Omaha, the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, the Wall Street Chamber Players, the New Haven Chorale and numerous soloists.
Many of Ms. Teason’s projects involve collaborations with professional, amateur and student musicians, often from widely diverse backgrounds. She worked with the Bridgeport Public Schools and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony to create four choral works over eight years that were written with inner city school students and performed by the symphony on subscription concerts. In 1999 she received a Continental Harmony commission from the American Composers Forum to create music for a small farming town in Nebraska. The completed work, Heartland, brought together a community choir, button accordion players, a Czech brass band, a children’s choir and a solo violinist, and was chosen to represent the Continental Harmony Project at the 2000 meeting of the National Council of the Arts in Washington DC. In 2003, Opera Omaha premiered Bloodlines, an opera which Ms. Teason wrote in collaboration with high school students from South Omaha and which brought together on stage national level singers, community professionals and high school singers. She founded and directed the Children’s Original Opera Project in Connecticut from 1994- 2002, a program that won the 2001 Morris Wessel Prize, and in 2010 collaborated with composer/child psychiatrist David Aryeh Sasso on a series of opera-writing projects at a Connecticut long-term children’s psychiatric hospital.
A chance introduction to playing in a steelband twenty-five years ago grew into a serious commitment to teaching and expanding the repertoire of the steel pan. Ms. Teason currently directs four steel band programs in Connecticut and was the founding director of the highly regarded St. Luke’s Steel Band, recipient of the 2003 Greater New Haven Arts Council Artist Award. In 2002 her concerto for steel band and orchestra, Trinity, was commissioned and premiered by the Waterbury Symphony. Renowned tenor pan soloist Liam Teague and the Vermeer Quartet premiered Cadences for steel pan and string quartet in Chicago in December 2006. Her recent works include Essakane for three steel pans, piano, bass and drums, which was premiered as part of Yale’s Ellington Concert Series in November 2010; and Spinky Slinks for alto saxophone, double seconds pans, piano, bass and drums, premiered in 2014. She also arranges for and performs with Mimosa Steel Pan Duo.
Check out Deborah's website HERE!
Check out the below video of Deborah's ensemble!
Check out the below interview with Deborah!
How did you start the St. Luke's Steel Band and what tips do you have to keep a successful program?
- In the fall of 1999 I got a phone call from a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The church had acquired a whole lot of used pans from a source in Brooklyn and wanted to start a church band, inspired by a visit from a visit from Heavenly Fire, based at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Massachusetts. As a largely West Indian congregation with a priest from Barbados, there was a lot of interest in and knowledge about pan culture at St. Luke’s, but no one with the know-how to direct the band. So they started asking around, and were referred to me by Neighborhood Music School, where I’d started teaching a steel band the previous spring. At that point, I couldn’t say no to anything pan-related, so I agreed to help them get the ensemble started. None of us had any idea where this was all going to take us, but 17 years later the band is still going strong, having won awards and audiences all over the region. I no longer direct the St. Luke’s Steel Band – we were fortunate that Kenneth Joseph, an amazing pannist who had just received his masters in pan performance at NIU moved to New Haven six years ago, and he has been leading the band to new heights. I have continued to play with them, though, and to direct the liturgical steel band that performs during mass six times each year. I think one of the key elements to the success of this band was the fact that I arranged all the music, which meant I could take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the band members as they developed and we could always tweak the music to be sure it sounded good. This band is a community band, and one of its strengths is that it’s multigenerational – members range from early teens to early 90s! The adults in the band have provided great continuity – many of them have been involved since the ensemble began – and kids have the ability to learn and play fast (they all play tenor pans!) It does mean we have to have sources of new members as the kids move through the band and leave for college, so we have started programs in several area schools and a training program at St. Luke’s itself. Patience and a sense of humor were also vital, especially during the early years – as well as appreciation for the dedication of the members, as all of them volunteer their time. St. Luke’s Steel Band can sometimes have 4-5 gigs in the region each month, so the time commitment is huge when you consider travel, set up and standing around time. Making sure that rehearsals are fun and that there is a strong sense of community really help keep the members involved. From the beginning, the band had a business manager – again, a volunteer, but someone who was knowledgeable in business and has handled all our bookings and finances. We have not only been self-supporting since the second year of our existence, but we have been able to donate back to the church and to schedule a number of free benefit performances for various organizations each year.
How did you get into Steel Pan and where did you learn to play?
- A colleague at the school where I was teaching music in 1992 invited me to come up to a rehearsal of a newly-formed graduate student steel band at Wesleyan University. Wesleyan had just hired a specialist in Haitian music for the ethnomusicology program, and while he didn’t know a lot about pans, he did recognize the ones found stashed under a stairwell in the student gym. My understanding is that they were donated many years before by a Conoco Oil executive who lived in Greenwich after a stint in Trinidad and had brought the pans up with him. Like most people who get to play pans, I fell instantly and deeply in love with them. I played with the Wesleyan band for two years, and soon after that started teaching pan in New Haven. Mostly I figured everything out for myself as I went along. Over the years I’ve attended a number of festivals, primarily the Mannette Festival in Morgantown and the Pan Ramajay Festival in Denver, where I’ve gotten to work with amazing pannists like Ray Holman and Tom Miller. There’s nothing like playing 8 hours a day to move your skills along. I’ve also been to Trinidad and Tobago four times, which is a must if you’re going to have any credibility in the pan world. About five years ago I started performing more professionally in a small ensemble, which I love. It’s been an amazing experience, especially when you consider I’d never heard of steel pans until I was in my early 40s.
What advice do you have to any upcoming drummer or percussionist that is looking to teach or start their own program?
- Learn how to arrange, go to Trinidad and Tobago, respect the history and culture of these magical instruments, and get the best pans you can afford - I recommend Andy Neils in Trinidad for buying tenors, seconds and guitar pans, and Glenn Rowsey in Morgantown for cellos, tenor basses and basses. Keep the instruments tuned, preferably by the same person. I lean toward tuners trained by Ellis Mannette, and Billy Sheeder is one of the best tuners in the world. Make sure you have a great drummer in the engine room (percussion section). And have fun. These are unquestionably the most fun instruments ever – they can play any kind of music, they sound good whether you’re a beginner or a virtuoso, and they always blow away the audience!