CVPA alums feature prominently in Netflix’s “Senior Year”

CVPA alums feature prominently in Netflix’s “Senior Year”

The new Netflix movie Senior Year features Rebel Wilson playing Stephanie, who was injured in a cheerleading stunt when she was 17 only to wake from a coma 20 years later and insisting on returning to finish out her senior year of high school and attend her prom. Mary Holland, who earned her MFA in Acting from the NIU School of Theatre and Dance in 2007, co-stars as Martha, Stephanie’s friend from high school who is now the principal and cheerleading coach.


Jermaine Stegall, who received his BFA in saxophone performance and composition from the NIU School of Music in 2000, was the music director on the film. Stegall most recently composed the music for Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America. 

Holland starred in The Happiest Season and co-wrote the film with Clea Duvall. The pair are currently writing a TV series for Lionsgate titled Day Job and Holland will play the lead character. She is also featured in the recently released Netflix comedy series The Woman In The House Across The Street From The Girl In The Window with Kristen Bell.

At the intersection of art and engineering in the Senior Design Program

At the intersection of art and engineering in the Senior Design Program

Naomi Cross with her CEET team

While the disciplines of art and engineering are not always thought to converge, they quite often do. In fact, art converges with many industries and careers that many might not realize.

“Art applies to many fields, such as architecture, landscape architecture, science, psychology, medicine and of course, engineering as in this example,” said  Todd Buck, professor of art in the illustration studio of the the NIU School of Art and Design. Six students in Buck’s ART 489/689 Design and Education Collaboration/Special Topics in Art Engineering course were part of teams in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology’s Senior Design Program, this year.

As part of the bachelor’s degree program, students in their senior year form teams to take on a real-world challenge in the Senior Design Program. The challenges involve creating or improving commercial products or industrial processes. To complete the project, students use classroom knowledge to integrate concepts, apply theories, and construct a prototype or process.

Along the way, they are mentored by faculty and industry professionals. This year, 61 teams showcased their projects at the Senior Design Day event held on Friday, May 6. This hands-on, real-world experience is a high point of their education.

This year, student Naomi Cross was one of several art students to represent both engineering and art, as she is majoring in engineering and minoring in art. Her team developed a type of underwater robot that can collect data deep in the ocean. Naomi developed an aesthetic design and a logo for the prototype.

“It gives a project a more professional look,” she said. “It helps being an artist to be able to envision three dimensional space, it also helps to bring forth a pleasant looking product that people want to buy or invest in,” said Cross. “When I first heard about industrial design, I realized I could combine my love of engineering with art.”

Buck explained that many students in art don’t all the ways in which they can use their artistic abilities. “When students are first starting out, they don’t know all the paths that are available. But there are many paths forward,” he said. In fact, Buck himself started his career in biology and is now an internationally known medical illustrator in addition to teaching at NIU.

“Art is very applicable to commercial and industrial design, it is the convergence of aesthetics and the user experience,” said Douglas Boughton, director of the School of Art and Design. “It provides the enterprise between the user and the machine.”

Buck added that School of Art and Design graduates can go into a variety of fields including industrial design, art therapy, scientific and medical illustration, to name a few. “We provide students with the tools, and then we help them see a successful career path,” he said.

Before the pandemic in 2019, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, the arts contributed 4.3 percent to the US GDP, nearly a trillion dollars at $919.7 billion. This includes the production of arts and cultural goods and services. In fact, the site goes on to say that this exceeds industries such as construction, transportation, warehousing and agriculture.

For more information about the Senior Design Program visit

CVPA students take part in CEET Senior Design Day

Seven of the 61 project teams had some kind of involvement with students or programs in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Six School of Art and Design students were part of Senior Design Day teams through their involvement in the ART 489/689 Design and Engineering Collaboration/Special Topics in Art Engineering course. Their role was to bring their design expertise to their team, not only for the report materials but for the aesthetics and functionality of the final product.

Art and Design Students

Naomi Cross – Design Team #1 – Design of low-cost underwater robots for swarm robotics

Nestor Alvarez – Team #41 – Grip Force Monitoring System for Day-long Data Logging in Occupational Settings

Sara Muszanski – Team #3 – Development of a Wearable System to Track Anxiety Level (Part III)

Arman Eshtiaghi – Team #21 – Wireless Sensor Network Ground Testing for Eventual Application on the International Space Station

Olivia Lonteen – Team #23 – A smart face mask for reliability and comfort for indoor/outdoor use

Erin Crawford – Team #49 – 2021 NIU Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge

And one team’s project (Team #31) was Mechanical Forging for the Construction of a Standardized Steelpan (Part II). They worked with the Steelpan Studies program at NIU as their client. Specifically with Yuko Asada, Musical Instrument Technician, Assistant Director of the NIU Steelband and Director of the Community School of the Arts Steelband. This was the second year of the steelpan project, and effort to develop a less physically taxing method of shaping a steelpan.

Congratulations to all of our Spring 2022 graduates

Congratulations to all of our Spring 2022 graduates

Congratulations to all of the students in the NIU School of Art and Design, School of Music and School of Theatre and Dance who earned their undergraduate and graduate degrees last weekend.

Nina Caliendo received her bachelor’s degree in music education, and was featured during the commencement ceremony.

School of Music’s Gregory Beyer and percussion alumni featured on PBS’s “Now Hear This”

School of Music’s Gregory Beyer and percussion alumni featured on PBS’s “Now Hear This”

Gregory Beyer, Professor and Director of Percussion Studies in the NIU School of Music and percussion alumni Ethan Martin and Noel Streacker were recently featured on PBS’ “Now Hear This.” The three are part of Arcomusical, made up of Beyer and NIU Percussion graduate students and alumni, whose mission is “to spread the joy of the Afro-Brazilian musical bow known as the berimbau through the development of innovative and excellent musical repertoire.”

The episode is titled “New American Voices” and features American composers inspired by their immigrant roots: Brazilian-born Sergio Assad and Indian-American Reena Esmail.

“Sergio Assad, one half of the famous Brazilian guitar duo, the Assad Brothers, lives in Chicago,” Beyer said. “He reached out to me to be involved with him in the episode and together we co-composed a work for classical guitar and three berimbaus that is premiered in the first segment. Working with Sergio was a delight. He is a consummate professional and a lovely and sensitive musician and human being. Making music with him for us was a joy and an honor. And co-composing the work was also delightful. I sent him an initial idea, he composed something for himself above what I wrote, and we continued ping-ponging the score back and forth until we were together happy with the final result. We hope to continue this collaboration in the near future.”


Beyer is featured twice in the episode. The first time at 26:25 when Martin and Streacker join Beyer and Assad. Beyer is featured again at 40:06 when he joins Assad and members of Gingarte Capoeira Chicago.

Arcomusical recently released their third album, Emigre and Exile, which has received a number of excellent reviews, including:

“Every so often an ensemble comes along that is dedicated to some sort of stylistic-meta-acoustical  way of playing-listening. The berimbau ensembles are inspired, beautifully sonic and a major reason to listen. But also the compositional approaches are all worth your attention over and above the sonic wonder of it as an entirety. The music pulsates in engaging ways. Everything has a kind of tribal folk-avant forward momentum, an elementally riff-like tonality, with repetition ostinatos not at all formulaic. This is not an ordinary sort of album. It is uplifting and unusual. I recommend it if you are wanting something different, something off the well beaten path. Bravo.” – Grego Applegate, April 19, 2022, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

You can watch Arcomusical’s album release party, which was held at Chicago’s Constellation.

May 1 NIU Philharmonic concert a tribute to Jan Bach

May 1 NIU Philharmonic concert a tribute to Jan Bach

Jan BachThe Northern Illinois University Philharmonic Orchestra is dedicating their upcoming concert to Dr. Jan Bach, an award-winning composer, musician and educator who passed away in 2020.

The concert is Sunday, May 1 at 7:00 p.m. in Boutell Memorial Concert Hall in the Music Building on the NIU main campus in DeKalb. Tickets can be purchased online. And a livestream of the concert will be available at the NIU School of Music website.

The NIU Philharmonic, with guest artist Liam Teague, will be performing some of Jan Bach’s compositions as part of the concert.

The winners of the NIU School of Music Jan Bach Prize for Music Composition will also be announced at the concert.

Jan Bach taught in the NIU School of Music for nearly 40 years. He studied under famed composer Aaron Copland at Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass. As a member of the US Army Band he performed at the funeral of John F. Kennedy in 1962.

He was nominated six times for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, was named an NIU Presidential Professor in 1982, and was nominated for the Council for the Advancement of Secondary Education (CASE) Professor of the Year award six times.

More: Pandemic delayed memorial planned for Jan Bach, composer who taught at NIU – Chicago Sun-Times, April 15, 2022

School of Music’s Liam Teague selected as 2022 NIU Board of Trustees Professor

School of Music’s Liam Teague selected as 2022 NIU Board of Trustees Professor

Liam Teague, Professor of Music and Head of Steelpan Studies in the School of Music has added to his impressive list of accomplishments with his selection as a 2022 Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees Professor.

Liam Teague has been selected as a 2022 Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees Professor.

Teague is a world-renowned performer and composer. He is one of the leading figures in creating and commissioning new solo steelpan and steelpan orchestral works, many of which have been published and performed by esteemed ensembles like the National Steel Symphony of Trinidad and Tobago and soloists at venues like Carnegie Hall. He has performed at concert venues from Madison Square Garden, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, Symphony Center in Chicago, the Teatro Nacional de Panama in Panama City, Teatro Nacional de Costa Rico in San Jose, to The Queen’s Hall in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Teague was originally drawn to NIU as a student from Trinidad and Tobago to study under NIU Steelband founders Al O’Connor and Cliff Alexis. Teague was a 2018 recipient of an NIU Presidential Research, Scholarship and Artistry Professorship and has devoted the majority of the award to engaging composers to create innovative pieces for solo steelpan and with non-steelpan instruments (piano, violin, percussion ensemble, etc.) Several of these works have been embedded into NIU’s steelpan majors’ curriculum and Teague feels they will be beneficial to generations of steelpan musicians by providing access into musical avenues which have been largely untapped.

“Professor Teague is an inspiration. Deeply soulful and committed in his artistry, extremely careful and organized in his planning, Liam has cultivated a crystal-clear vision to transform the steelpan into an instrument of supreme virtuosity that can stand alongside the violin as a premiere concert solo instrument,” said Greg Beyer, Professor and Director of Percussion Studies at NIU. “As a result of his relentless pursuit of excellence, his reputation proceeds him nationally and internationally. He is known in percussion circles as the ‘Paganini of the steelpan.’ This is neither exaggeration nor hyperbole. Teague’s performances feature blistering virtuosity astonishingly delivered with clarity and grace.”

Recent NIU School of Music graduate Jaron Woodsley, who earned bachelor’s degrees in both music performance and music education, says Teague brings the world to the program. “He goes beyond the call of duty for his students, and others, in any way possible. Such is his commitment to his students that he does not want them to miss contact hours, so he has his lessons online wherever in the world he may be, even when there’s a significant time difference. He seeks out young and upcoming steelpan musicians from all over the world to study with him and other faculty members at NIU, broadening and further diversifying the program.”

Michael Bump, Professor and Director of Percussion Studies at Truman State University, first encountered Teague nearly 30 years ago when Bump, then a graduate student at the University of Illinois saw him perform on a tenor pan for U of I students and faculty. “None present had ever witnessed such flights of virtuosity on pan, the demonstration leaving an indelible awareness that a defining artistic experience had just taken place,” Bump said. “In the years since, Liam and I have had several opportunities to professionally interact, including on four different occasions when he has been my invited guest artist clinician at both Ohio State University and Truman State. Throughout this span of time, the young virtuoso of that first encounter has blossomed into an internationally revered performing artist, teacher, and composer. In Liam, the people of Trinidad and Tobago gifted the world a tireless ambassador of the unique musical voice that is pan. How fortunate the NIU community is to have such a dedicated life-long learner. One who embraces the art of the question, patiently and tirelessly sharing the wealth of his knowledge with those around him.”

Avery Attzs came to NIU to follow a similar path to Teague. He studied under him for six years. “As a young boy growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, the name ‘Liam Teague’ was a familiar one,” Attzs said. “Oftentimes it was used as a noun to describe someone who showed exceptional talent or promise when it came to playing the steelpan. Although incredibly humble, Liam Teague is considered a legend and is held in the highest regard by the global steelpan community. He continues to bring great pride to the people of Trinidad and Tobago as he promotes Trinidadian culture to the highest degree. Through his commissioning of new music for the steelpan and his dedication to bringing diverse musicians together, he continues to blaze the trail of excellence as he works to push the steelpan to new heights.”

Teague has also taught and performed for the past 25 years at Birch Creek Music Performance Center in Door County, Wisc., 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 the author of a steelpan method for beginners published by the Hal Leonard Corporation, the world’s largest publisher of print music.

He has created arrangements for the most celebrated steelband competition in the world, Panorama, 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 and Open Window.