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  • Synopsis: Life Before NIU
    Keywords: Dallas Symphony; Fort Worth Symohony; Classical Piano; Jazz; First World Fusion Band; African Drumming.
    Transcript: JOHNSON: My name is Lucy Johnson. I'm here with my fellow interviewer Alice Dvorak and our narrator Robert Chappell. Today is a Saturday, October 19, 2019. We are here today in the DeKalb Public Library located in downtown DeKalb, Illinois to conduct an oral history interview with Robert Chappell for Northern Illinois University's 125th anniversary of oral history project. Thank you, Mr. Chappell, for participating in this project. I'd like to start with a question on your background and where you grew up, and your life before NIU.

    CHAPPELL: [chuckles] My life before NIU. Actually, I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I was originally— as far as the musical side of my life, I originally studied nine years of classical piano. It's a funny story but I got started in percussion because I played piano in the junior high orchestra, just so the string player could find the right note to play, more or less. They needed somebody to play triangle or something in the percussion section. They asked me if I wanted to go back because there were two or three piano players and shortage of— So I ended up going back in the percussion section and then my whole musical career, middle school, high school ended up being mostly in percussion, but also in piano. It was interesting because I always tell my students now, "You really should study piano because it really makes your life a lot easier." [chuckles] That's another story. I went to Ohio State for my undergraduate degree and I was pretty much a classical percussionist or played in the Columbus Symphony and that kind of thing, and I really needed— I thought it would be very important to study jazz and study more drum set. So I went to North Texas to get my Masters which is— they have two thousand music students there. It's a huge place and probably the best jazz program in the country. That was a wonderful year and a half. [laughs] I ended up doing three semesters there. I was playing with the Dallas Symphony, with the Fort Worth Symphony, I was a GA [Graduate Assistant], I was making a lot of money. It was great [chuckles] and it took a lot of years to get back to that position. But I had this— in the third semester, I had this great opportunity. A friend of mine introduced me to a group that was touring and they needed somebody to play one performance. It actually was at the University of North Dakota, and I was like, "Sure, that'll be fun to play." My friend plays in the Dallas Symphony and they were looking for a keyboard player at that time and I said, "I play keyboards." "Why don't you read the keyboard book of this band?" So I did, and they said, "This is great. Can you go do a three-week tour from San Diego to Vancouver, Lincoln in a month?" [laughs] and I said, "Let me work on that." I got everything— all my ducks in a row, got somebody to cover my classes. Luckily, the Dallas Symphony had run out of money. [chuckles] It was lucky. That's another story, but they were playing concerts at that moment and I'm going, I had to look if I can cover my classes and things, so I went to the Dean of the College of Music and laid this all out. It's a great opportunity because it was really a very important band back in those days. It was the first world fusion band that combined jazz and classical and African music and a lot of different cultures, and surprisingly the dean said yes. [chuckles] We played all the major colleges from San Diego State to UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] to Fresno to San Francisco, Oregon and I think the last concert was at Bellingham, Washington and it was amazing. Then they invited me to permanently play with the band and I ended up doing that for four and a half years. Luckily again, the money ran out. [chuckles] So I said, "Maybe it's a good time I should go back and finish my Master's," because they only give you five years to complete your coursework. I came back, got my Master's, did my thesis and then actually got my first college job which was at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. I was there for five years and then I was working on doctoral courses at North Texas again, and I heard about the NIU job being open. It ended up that I had a band called Rhythmic Union. We had a festival to play at South Bend and I flew from Dallas to South Bend, played the festival, got my audition the day after, drove over to DeKalb and they said, "Okay, you're hired. Can you start in two weeks?" [chuckles] This is like the end of July or whatever. It was really late, kind of a crazy situation. I said, "Is it possible? Look, let's do a thing that works for everybody. How about if I start the second semester and you hire somebody to cover my load for the first semester? I will teach at my old school, sell the house, that kind of thing, and come up and start in the— it would be January of '84 [1984]." We worked it out. Jim Ross of the Chicago Symphony taught for me that semester and another really great percussionist taught for me at my old school, and I ended up teaching here for twenty-nine years. [chuckles]. That gets to when I retired in 2012.
  • Synopsis: World Fusion Music Interest
    Keywords: World Fusion Music; Tabla Drumming; World Procussion; NIU Steel Band.
    Transcript: JOHNSON: Did you work with world fusion music? Had you always been interested in that?

    CHAPPELL: Well, that's an interesting question too because I didn't know anything about it and I went to— Actually a friend of a friend was a member of the Dallas Symphony. He invited me over to his house and immediately pulled out a couple of Indian drums called tabla and started playing. He had every world music record I think that was available in 1973, and I'm going, "Wait a second, I don't know anything about any of this," and this is amazing because if you play percussion in an orchestra, you being a triangle or you play a cymbal crash, the timpani is the most interesting job that you have if you're playing in an orchestra. I'm going "Wait, there's the other percussion cultures there. The percussionists are the stars," [chuckles] and that's amazing. He actually introduced me first to that and then I ended up going with this band two or three semesters after that. Actually I learned African xylophone, I learned a good bit about Indian tabla. I learned Brazilian percussion, a lot of different things with this group. One of the things that really interested me about the NIU position was that NIU already had a really significant world music element to their program. They had the first steel band in the country. They had Japanese gamelans. They had— the guy that actually I took his position actually played Indian tabla too and I had started studying seriously about four years before I came here. It was kind of like— my main interests at that point in my career were world percussion and jazz, and certainly, I did the classical thing too but there's so many things you have to do with percussion. Eventually, you have to say, "Okay, I'm going to do these two," because it gets crazy. That's where I got started in the world music side of things.
  • Synopsis: International Sabattical Leave and Work.
    Keywords: First Set of Tassa Drums in United States; Sabbatical Work; Indian Drumming; International Drumming; Modernista Drumming; NIU Steel Band.
    Transcript: JOHNSON: I know that you went to Bombay and the West Indies.

    CHAPPELL: Right.

    JOHNSON: Did you gain first-hand experience with playing the instruments that are found there, or did someone teach them to you here and then you just went over there to learn about them?

    CHAPPELL: Well, basically, in my career I had four sabbaticals. Most of them were coordinated with the study of world percussion in one way or another. The first one I had I got a Fulbright in— it ends up being 1990, and to study Indian drumming in Mumbai and I lived there for almost six months and studied with one of the great percussionists, a person named Alla Rakha who was famous because he was the tabla player, the drummer for Ravi Shankar who was probably the most important person for introducing Indian music to Europe and the United States. He played with him for 25 years. I think they might have even played at Woodstock. [chuckles] I'd have to go back and look at all the things that he did, but earlier I had studied with his son Zakir Hussein, who's probably considered to be the finest tabla player alive right now and has been for a lot of years. In California, they still have the only classical Indian music school North of San Francisco. I got a chance to go to India and I think the thing that I really gained from that besides the musical— incredible things that I learned that way, you really do not understand the instrument and what it's about until you live in the culture. When you live in India, the culture is very— It's dynamically but very family-oriented. In other words, if you were a tabla player and Indian drummer, you would study from your father and your father would not teach other people outside the family. It was very much that way. Let's see, what was the next one? In 1996, I went to Taiwan and China. I worked mostly with– actually instrument building when I was there. I did some teaching and then I learned a little bit how you braised Chinese gongs. [laughs] It's not really a super percussion thing. I mean, they have Chinese drumming and that kind of thing but I was focused on a different thing. In 2004, I went to Trinidad, the home of the steelpan, which most people go— well, you can hang out with the incredible carnival, they have these amazing bands that play and of course, NIU has a scholarship program set up for Trinidadian and Caribbean students. The steel band at NIU was pretty amazing. I played in the steel band here for 21 years as a faculty member just because it was so great. It was really, really a wonderful experience to actually be working with Al O'Connor and Cliff Alexis in the steel band and then later, Leon Teague, who was a longtime colleague of mine. I went to Trinidad in 2004 but rather than study steelpan, I actually studied a set of drums called Tassa drums, T-A-S-S-A and they are very interestingly— a combination of Indian street drumming from India because about forty percent of the population in Trinidad is Indian and forty percent is African. It's a really interesting mix of cultures, sometimes not a mix of cultures, depending. I ended up bringing back, I think, the first set of Tassa to a university in the US [United States]. We've done various drumming activities with the Tassa group playing traditional music. I ended up writing a piece that we played at an international convention with the NIU percussion ensemble and Tassa drumming. That was a fun thing that we did that way. My last sabbatical was 2011 and I was in Costa Rica and I actually worked with the Modernista’s, the marimba players that do traditional Central American marimba music. It's really, really great, I've got a bunch of pieces. I wrote a really big piece that we played a couple of times. All the things that I studied basically have worked their way into the curriculum of the percussion department at NIU. In fact, I'm still teaching tabla now and I've been retired for seven years, but I teach in the fall. I have nine tabla students right now so people get a chance to keep studying, it's a very, very intricate part of music. The steel band has been great— starting in '73 [1973], I believe. We just did the forty-fifth anniversary, speaking of anniversaries and that kind of thing. It's amazing how fast time goes. All those things have been great experiences, not only for me but for the students. They're very useful in today's world because you have to know so many different things. I think I covered a lot of territory there. [laughs].
  • Synopsis: Role at NIU
    Keywords: Head of Percussion Studies; Applied Percussion; Music Education; Teaching Music Students; Teaching Jazz; Teaching World Music.
    Transcript: JOHNSON: What are the different roles you have played at NIU?

    CHAPPELL: What role?

    JOHNSON: Yes.

    CHAPPELL: I was head of percussion studies when I came here. There were always two percussion faculty, which was really— somebody who— people considered it a luxury. We always had really good numbers of students and because percussion is so diverse, it really helps a lot to have people that have expertise in different areas of percussion. For instance, I worked with Rich Holly for probably more than 20 years, or close to 20 years here. Rich ended up becoming the Dean of the College eventually, but Rich's areas were more drum set and marimba and mine was more jazz and world music. We were able to cover all the main areas in percussion so the students wouldn't have to go hire somebody or they have to go into Chicago to study with somebody. Maybe for a certain level, you can do that. My role was I taught applied percussion, individual lessons, percussion ensemble. Sometimes there's a percussion lid tech, lid class, there was percussion message where you teach music ed people [music education people], so that they go out and teach bands and know what they're doing with percussion. I also taught a lot in the jazz area. I taught oral foundations of improvisation, jazz piano I taught for quite a while. I was busy in both the jazz area— sort of as a small part of my load and then mostly in percussion. I never really considered myself the head of percussion. We always did it as a collegial kind of thing. Sometimes there had to be a decision and I had to make that one, but we almost always had come together on some sort of agreement before we even did anything that way.
  • Synopsis: Change in the Music Department
    Keywords: Contemporizing Music; Covering Fundamentals of Music; Broad Learning.
    Transcript: JOHNSON: How do you think that NIU has changed over time? Have you noticed any weaknesses or strengths?

    CHAPPELL: Well, yes, obviously. Probably the students changed more than anything else. Rich Holly and I in the percussion area, we tried really diligently to make what we offered contemporary, so that it really reflected what was happening in the world at that moment. Universities are not particularly flexible or swift. [laughs] Shall we put it gently? The change is very incremental and very slow. Even to add a course sometimes would take a couple, three years. It has to go through all the committees and all that kind of thing. Rich Holly and I tried to incorporate or to modernize things through the School of Music and that was not super successful. What we did was we ended up making what we felt was super important for the students, part of their private lessons and part of the things that we did in the studio. One of the things that Rich and I did— I thought that was really smart and really worked out well, was rather than just having an individual one hour lesson for everybody, we implemented a series of classes that changed every semester and they covered the fundamentals of each area of percussion. There might be one that's on snare drum, one that's on marimba, one playing small instruments, cymbals, and triangles and that kind of thing, Afro-Cuban percussion, timpani, drum set, a whole series of different things. The students had ideas of repertoire, they had ideas of what they had to do to really get fluent on this instrument. That way nobody kind of escaped because there's some people who say, "Well, I'm a marimba player, I don't really like to play those other things." Everybody had to suffer in some way or another or at least be competent in each area. Nobody's going to be the greatest in everything and that was really, really great. I think actually Greg Beyer, who took over for me in 2012, they've even expanded it a little bit more now. I call it a mini master's degree because you can really concentrate on the master's level. This gives all the freshman and sophomore a chance to even write more, do a little research and do a lot of things that you normally don't get that way.
  • Synopsis: Teaching in the Music Department
    Keywords: Music Department; Writing; Teaching Style; Presidential Teaching Professor Award.
    Transcript: JOHNSON: In the music department, is it mostly just first-hand experience? Are there tests and papers that you have the students write?

    CHAPPELL: Well, it depends on the class. In Applied Music, writing is not something that is generally—We have so much we have to learn on the instruments, repertoire. A lot of different things that way. I know that some of these small classes, we made people write, which is—I mean my wife teaches seventh-grade science and she makes the kids write and they hate it. It's so hard to get people to write because it's not a skill that you use as much anymore, but a skill they're going to need even being—screaming in the writing world that way. [laughs] The classes that I had did not necessarily have a writing component, but we included some things. People had to write a two-page paper or a five-page paper, something, just to get them to write and to do a little research. That's the main thing that way.

    JOHNSON: You received the Presidential Teaching Professor Award. Could you elaborate on what that award is and how you got it?

    CHAPPELL: Sure. I had known about this award because there were some faculty members in the school of music that had received it during my time teaching there. I was actually nominated, I believe, by Paul Bauer who was a chair of the department at that time. He wrote me and said, "Hey, Robert, would you mind if I wrote a nomination for the Presidential Teaching Award?" I said, "No, that's great." There was some things that I had to do. There's an application process and you have to talk about your teaching and that kind of thing, and I know the interview- both students that are students at that time and alumni, about different people. I was lucky enough to receive the honor of getting this, I consider it one of the highest awards that they do for faculty because essentially, we're here to teach. [laughs] That's why we're here. Sometimes, they may disagree about that, but to be recognized on that, I think that the thing that I emphasized when I was writing the application for this, and it's one of the great things about having a position where you're working, really, a lot of time do one-on-one with a student, is that we can address the student as a person rather than as somebody taking my class and doing these activities to fill the things at the class. We can talk to students about what are the goals, what do they see themselves becoming professionally in music? This is a difficult thing. Trying to be a successful musician or teacher or even getting a good job in the music is a challenge. One thing Rich Holly and I had was we set up from freshman year, people had to lay out their progression about what they needed to do to get to that position. By the time they graduated from N. I. U., they would be competitive in the musical world either as a player, as a teacher, as a composer, or whatever that they did. I think that was a very important philosophy that we had and maybe it would have something to do with me getting the award. It was great. One of the great things about the award is you actually had a budget for four years. [laughs] People would come to me and say, "Robert, do you have $500? I want to bring this guest in." "Sure. Here's $500." We upgraded equipment, we brought guest artists in, things that you normally can't do because this isn't a lot of money at N. I. U. You find ways to make things work. It was really, really a wonderful thing. It ends up that because of the award, they give you a semester leave. I ended up spending a semester in Costa Rica with my family, and I started teaching down there. That has led to—Now, I've actually taught down there since 2013. My life now, I teach at N. I. U. in the fall, and then when it gets cold, I go to Costa Rica [laughs] and teach there. I spend about five months there and about seven months in DeKalb. It's funny how the musical world and the travels that you do as a musician, you end up meeting crazy people. In fact, next week, I'm going to Spain and I’m teaching there for a week at the University of Murcia which is in the south, between Granada and Valencia, if you know about southern Spain. Of course, now, teaching in Costa Rica, my Spanish is, I call it ‘turista avanzada.’ It's like 'advanced tourist'. It's better than that. My daughter ended up getting her PhD in Spanish linguistics. She got a Fulbright. It's funny how these things pass through generations and whatever. If I get stuck with my Spanish, she's there to help me. [laughs]
  • Synopsis: Teaching in Costa Rica
    Keywords: National Institute of Music at San José; National Symphony Orchestra; Tabla Drumming; Costa Rica.
    Transcript: JOHNSON: With your teaching in Costa Rico, do you teach the same subjects that you did at N. I. U., or is it specific to Costa Rica and South America?

    CHAPPELL: No. I teach at the National Institute of Music in San José. It's kind of the music school of the National Symphony Orchestra there. It's more of a classical school. Most of the people there are string players. They would like to play in an orchestra eventually. Actually, my friend, Bismarck Fernández who—that's another story, I met in a festival in Korea in 2002 with the NIU Steel Band, go figure that. He wanted me to cover the areas that they don't have anybody to teach. I ended up starting a full steel band in San José. I also have taught the Indian tabla drumming, and I teach improvisation. Those are the three things that I teach there. That's all areas that they don't have anybody who really covers that. I didn't want to take any kind of work from anybody from Costa Rica. Now, one of my students now is so advanced that when I'm done teaching there, he can take over which is great. The thing that you find in our position as musicians is what I refer to as a musical legacy, is that the things that I've learned from my great teachers over the years had been passed on to my students. They get changed because obviously, each student's going to be different. They're going to use things in different ways. It's amazing when you see great students, one of my students, Pat Schleker, is the timpanist for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra now. He said one of the things that made it possible for him to win that position was playing in the steel band for four years because his rhythmic time was superb because you play in a steel band, calypsos and time music all the time. If you're playing in an orchestra, it's a little loose. Rhythm is a little loose. People would come to him and say, "Could I study with you? Because your time is so good. What did you do?" He said, "Well, I played in the N. I. U. Steel Band for four years." [laughs] It's funny how these things become important in different ways that you would never expect.
  • Synopsis: Favorite Memories
    Keywords: Precussion; Steel Pan Band; Trinidad; Amadinda,
    Transcript: JOHNSON: What is your favorite memory of being at N. I. U.?

    CHAPPELL: Wow, [laughs] there's a lot of them. I'd say the overall favorite memories have to do with the successes of my students, to see them succeed in different ways and in ways that you would not expect. For example, I had a Brazilian student who's an amazing female Brazilian percussion. She can play all the Brazilian percussion instruments better than anybody. She’s really great, but she had no background on keyboard instruments at all. It was really a struggle. We worked very, very slowly in over a number of semesters to get her marimba playing at least passable up to college level, recital level and that kind of thing. To see her play on her senior recital a number of pieces that she would not have been able to get through about six notes [laughs] two years earlier is really, really wonderful. I would say that, in general, some of the highlights of what I did here probably have to do with my affiliation with the N. I. U. Steel Band. In 1991, I had been here seven years up to that point. I could say, "I got to really get involved in the steel band someway." Of course, you get busy and you don't do anything. Al O'Connor who was actually the head of percussion before me, I took over his position in '83, '84. He came to me one day, probably it was in the spring of '91. He said, "Robert, the steel band has been invited to do a major tour in Taiwan in March of '92. There's two things I want you to do. I want you to learn to play steelpan," which I've never played before, "And I want you to write a major piece for the steel band to play on this tour. I wanted to include your African xylophone that I'd brought to N. I. U. called the Amadinda xylophone from Uganda, which I played in the group, the Paul Winter group that I played in and then another group that I had after this. I said, "Sure, tell me what you want to do," and that kind of thing. It ended up that summer of '91, I proposed about two-thirds of the piece and brought it into rehearsal in the fall. In December, I finished a piece and we finished and played it. It ended up being my most famous piece. We've played it in Korea, Taiwan, in the Caribbean, I've done an orchestra version. We've played with four different orchestras. Last year I ended up doing a concert band version and we played it in San José, Costa Rica with their top concert band there. The steel band that I did, it's a piece called Wooden Steel which uses African xylophone, the steel band, the original—and with the orchestra with concert band. Al got me involved in this. That was one of the greatest tours I think I've done. We did a wonderful set of concerts in Korea. We played a couple of percussion international conventions. That's really, really amazing. The other one that's really memorable is in 2000, Al O'Connor brought the NIU Steel Band to Trinidad to compete in a international steel band festival. There were seventeen steel bands. Three from Europe, two from the US and the rest were from the Caribbean, probably seven or eight from Trinidad and the others. That was probably one of the most amazing experiences I've had. We went into the soccer stadium where they had the bands play because it was loud. Steel bands are loud anyway. I got into the steel band and I heard Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony being played. I'm going, "Where's the orchestra here?" It was a steel band playing the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Note for note. I'm going, "That's impossible." We ended up competing over a course of a week with all these bands and we ended up coming in second place. We played my Wooden Steel piece as one of the three pieces that we played on the competition. Cliff Alexis, who was very important in steel band program at N. I. U., recently passed away last year, wrote a piece. There was a funny joke going around because at semi-finals, we were second behind this other band. If you understand Trinidad a little bit, it's super competitive. It's a small island and you have all these amazing musicians competing. It's pretty difficult. There was this joke. We saw it on the evening news, the seven o'clock news, it was a phone-in thing, it said, "Do you think a foreign band is going to win the competition?" I don't know what the people wrote in or whatever. Trinidadians, we were talking, they said, "I don't know if it's a good thing to win. I don't know if we'd be able to get on the plane." It was a joke. It's good we came in second and the band that won was actually an amazing band. It all worked out fine. That experience of being in Trinidad, practicing probably five hours a day, we would practice in what's called a panyard, which is like an open area. It's always eighty degrees there and they have a roof and that's it. You play all the time there. To really play the music at that incredibly high level was something that a lot of times, you just don't have the time to do. If you practice five hours a day, you get pretty good.
  • Synopsis: Steel Pan Drumming; Steel Drum Program at NIU; Techniques for Playing the Steel Drum
    Keywords: Steelpan Drum; Panoramic; Music Notes
    Transcript: JOHNSON: To play the instruments louder, for clarification, do you have to hit the drum harder?

    CHAPPELL: You mean the steelpans?

    JOHNSON: Yes.

    CHAPPELL: Yes. Well, it's a very bizarre instrument. If you go and you learn a lot about the history of it, it's really fascinating because it ends up being started from the beating on biscuit tins in Trinidad at carnivals. They would use it just to make noise. They discovered that as the metal changes, you can actually get pitches out of it. That developed into this amazing instrument that now can play chromatically. It can play any kind of music, classical music, whatever you want. It's very bizarre because the size of the notes, if you have a fifty-five-gallon oil drum, and you have bass notes, the notes have to be so large, you might only have two or three notes on that whole drum. The size- like a low note might be shaped like that. A note like maybe two octave above middle C might be that small. The problem in playing steelpan, you have to change the force that you use. In other words, the small note you got to hit really hard and the big notes you have to hit pretty soft, otherwise you'll distort the tone. It takes a long time to get-- I've always considered myself a pretty mediocre steelpan player. [laughs] I do other things really well. My friend and colleague, Liam Teague, we ended up playing together for about twenty-five years professionally. We had a duo. We had a group called Panoramic that was like a Caribbean Latin jazz group that we played in. We did three C. D.s and a lot of really great concerts over the years. Then, Liam, he was my student, when he came to N. I. U. as a nineteen-year-old from Trinidad, he was like the virtuoso at actually fifteen or sixteen. He studied jazz with me when he was here. We ended up playing professionally together. We ended up writing a lot of music, because there isn't any music for steelpan. You have to create your own thing. That ended up being a big part of my professional career, outside of teaching. Right now, in fact, this past year-- It was actually this past April, Liam commissioned me to write a concerto for steelpan and a percussion ensemble because he flies all over the world performing with steel bands and percussions, but he didn't have a good piece. We premiered it on the steel band concert last April. It was just so much fun to come back from Costa Rica to conduct the piece and it went super well. That's like everything in a nutshell there. I'm sure you got more questions.

    JOHNSON: That's really interesting. Thank you. I don't know much about steel drums or anything like that.

    CHAPPELL: Come to the concert in November. I don't know if you could sit in the balcony, but it's—I always like to—if I go to Chicago Symphony, I like to sit around the orchestra. The sound isn't as good obviously, but you really get to feel like you're right inside of it. If you can see what people do on the pans because you can't see because they're tilted like this, it's always like, "Are they really playing that or are they faking it?" Because they're moving their hands, but you can't really see what's going on inside. In fact, years ago, Liam and I did this festival in Wisconsin for twenty-five years together. The audience would say, "Is there any way we could see that?" We tried to do it with mirrors. Eventually we came up with something called the pan cam, where we would stick a digital camera behind the pan, and then project it on the screen, so people could see what Liam was doing when he was playing a solo and that kind of thing, which was very popular. Eventually, people would complain because his hands moved too fast and they couldn't tell exactly what was going on. Anyway, that's another story. It is fascinating. Eventually, I learned what's going on. I have my own set of steel pans in Costa Rica now. It's not a big band. It's like nine or ten people. I'm going to try to add a few more instruments here gradually.
  • Synopsis: Conclusions
    Keywords: History; Alumni; Composing; World Music; Oakland University; University of Wisconsin
    Transcript: JOHNSON: What else do you think deserves attention during this 125th anniversary—

    CHAPPELL: I'm sorry. One more time.

    JOHNSON: What else do you think deserves attention during the anniversary year at N. I. U.?

    CHAPPELL: I don't really know what the focus is of that other than historical. A lot of times it's difficult for people at the moment to know what came before them. I think that's a very important thing because we don't really do history very well here in the U. S. Are you all involved in historical things?

    JOHNSON: I do European history.

    CHAPPELL: Okay, yes. Well, you know the connection is important because we have a tendency to make the same stupid mistakes we made before. You see them coming and you go, "Wait a second, that's coming. We got to not do that." At least you have the knowledge of it. You could do something about it. I think that's probably the most important thing, is to have that connection. Really what was done 125 years ago, not that different. Technologically, sure, we've got all the technology and all that stuff, but people still eat food, people still play music. It's not really that different from what it was then, but now it's all on iPads and whatever else. Things change in different ways that way. I think the thing that really is a continuity and really curious to think through is the students themselves. The alumni that graduate from here are so important to N. I. U. because they're the ones that suggest other students to come to N. I. U. They're the ones whose successes are really what make our jobs really important. You can do all sorts of academic stuff, and it's really what your students do that really is the final result. A historical project like this I think really has to do with that legacy idea that I was mentioning about musicians having legacy of their teachers being passed on to their students and passing it on to their students. Likewise, students of N. I. U. are passing things on in their own way of what they learned in N. I. U., important lessons, not only academically, but being a good person and living a good life. That's probably more important than being the world's greatest academic in some subject. It's important, but it's not important as being a decent human being. [laughs]

    JOHNSON: I know that you go to Costa Rica and you teach, after you've retired from N. I. U. Do you do anything else besides teach now that you've retired?

    CHAPPELL: Well, I probably compose more now than I do before. I have more time for it, obviously that helps. I also do residencies with universities and occasional really good high school programs where basically I go and teach my world music expertise and then we end up playing pieces that I compose sometimes with steel bands, sometimes with percussion ensemble. Last year, I did a week at the Oakland University outside of Detroit and they have a big world music program there. It wasn't anything super new for them, but they enjoyed playing my compositions in a different world music cultures. Before that I worked with Texas, San Antonio. I did a presentation of how you compose from a world music tradition to different ensembles so that you can basically have a continuity that isn't just like, "Here I'm going to throw in this world music thing that you basically start with a world music tradition and create a piece from that," rather than the other way around. I've done that a number of times. That's what I do now. I usually book a tour in the spring, a week, ten days, that kind of thing and sometimes in the fall. I think next year is going to be University of Wisconsin. I've been working on that for a while and they're booked four years ahead. That's my life now, but it's a lot less crazy because basically, when you're teaching full-time, if you're doing something creative, I always tend to do that, like between fall and spring semester and then in the summer because then you have big chunks of time and if you want to do three or four hours a day on a particular project, you can do it.

    JOHNSON: That's all the questions I have for you.

    CHAPPELL: That sounds great. I hope you get some great interviews. I'm sure you will. Hopefully, I didn't say anything bad. [laughs]

    JOHNSON: No, not at all.

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