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WIU Bands to Combine Music and Mission on Brazil Trip

Nov 5, 2013

More than 200 student musicians from Western Illinois University’s Bands are headed to Brazil this spring. 

The trip is about more than just featuring the school’s ensembles to new audiences. It’s also a humanitarian and philanthropic mission.  

Local residents take in a concert of the WIU Wind Ensemble during the group's 2010 tour of Brazil.
Credit Abby Rhodes

Four years ago, the WIU Symphonic Wind Ensemble took a trip to Brazil to play some concerts.  Their itinerary included a performance at an orphanage – a facility that echoed the poverty of many people living in the country.  Most of the children had never seen an instrument in person, or heard much in the way of live music. Upon getting back to Macomb, French horn player Katy Massa said everything seemed different.  "Before, in school, rehearsals were more just trying to get everything right and play things the right way," said the music performance major from Peoria.  "Since then, I notice that in rehearsals I feel like I can enjoy music more.  I can remember how much fun it was and how much impact we had on our audiences."

And the change wasn’t just musically.  Mike Fansler is Western’s director of bands, and conducts the Wind Ensemble.  "When we came back, we had a different view of what needed to happen in Brazil and how we could help.  They cried out for us to help bring them instruments so they could start some programs down there that otherwise couldn’t happen.  We could get kids off the street and into educational and cultural groups," said Fansler.

I think [music] does something in the brain that helps you put things together.

This year, Western is going to be a part of tour of the country and a band festival.  In addition to concerts, the musicians of the schools Marching Band, Wind Ensemble and Jazz Studio Orchestra will be playing on donated instruments that they will leave in Brazil for school programs and community bands.  That will mean about 200 instruments to help create and shore up existing musical groups in Brazil.

D. J. Alstadt graduated from WIU in 1999, and is now the band director at Naperville Central High School. He was so taken by his experience at WIU and the story of the 2010 trip to Brazil, that he is bringing his high school band on the trip to Brazil this spring. "I’ve never been involved with a music project that is so wrapped wonderfully in the opportunity and rich with the performance, cultural and and humanitarian aspect," said Alstadt. "And for me, that is just absolutely thrilling, and quite honestly quite an honor to be a part of as an alumni."

Deb Cassidy-Roscamp (right) plays with the WIU Marching Leathernecks during Homecoming.
Credit Jonathan Ahl

And WIU is hoping to attract the attention of all alumni of the program, not just music majors. One of them is Deb Cassidy-Roscamp.   She graduated with a degree in Accounting in 1985, but says her most memorable college experiences were in music.  So much so that she recently came back to WIU for homecoming to play with the Marching Leathernecks. "I believe music is what made me more intelligent.  I was able to focus better.  I think it does something in the brain that helps you put things together.  It’s very mathematical," said Cassidy-Roscamp.

WIU is going to need support of a lot of alumni.  In addition to raising the remaining $40,000 needed to pay for the trip, the band needs lots of donated instruments.  They can be in any condition, as Western will repair them and get them ready to be played and donated in Brazil.  Band Director Mike Fansler says that old flute, trumpet or saxophone that is sitting in the back of your closet or attic could change someone’s life in Brazil. 

Information on donating to the Brazil trip, either with cash or an instrument can be found on the WIU Bands Web Site.