I had been planning a blog post about my upcoming Argentina trip and a few other announcements, but that will wait. Al O’Connor, the founder of the NIU Steelband and long-time leader of the NIU Percussion program and dean of the School of Music has passed away. I wrote the following on Facebook yesterday when I heard Al had passed: The NIU Percussion and Steelband Family has lost another icon.
Al O’Connor was a visionary, great educator, funny story teller and the kind of guy you want in your corner as an artist. Not only did he found the NIU Steelband, he had the foresight to bring in Cliff Alexis, keep Liam Teague at NIU and helped create countless opportunities for SO many other steelpannists and percussionists to get an education and find satisfying careers. Judy and Al were always great to me. They have always had stories to share and kind words to say after any performance I may have been involved in. I was so excited when they attended my New Music, guest recital at NIU last fall. I’m left today to reminisce about Al telling not-so-appropriate funny stories in Birch Creek Steelband rehearsal, driving up to Door County with his grandson Drew after becoming too old to attend the camp as campers…
I’ll remember Al’s always firm handshake and the pride with which he spoke about the NIU Music fraternity. Like Cliff, Al and his family know that his legacy is far-reaching and significant. Those two giants of music (and friends like brothers!) will be forever missed.
Al’s obituary can be seen HERE.