DECATUR, Ill. – As the Millikin Piano and Jazz campers took to the stage in the gymnasium at Decatur’s Macon Resources, Inc., on Thursday, July 27, it was a perfect combination of two Millikin University-centered projects.
The campers were showing off some of the skills they had learned during the Millikin Community Arts Academy (MCAA) summer programs, and the piano they were playing on was one of the functional pieces of art created by the Public Painted Pianos Project, which places pianos for public use around Macon County.
The idea behind Public Painted Pianos Project came from Millikin Assistant Nursing Professor Dr. Gail Fyke, who was inspired to promote the placement of musical instruments in public spaces after her son Austin took part in music therapy following brain surgery. She teamed up with Millikin School of Music Associate Professor Dr. Neal Smith, and the program now has 14 pianos around the Decatur area and a 15th coming soon.
Previous years had the campers perform at the Children’s Museum of Illinois, the Decatur Family YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club of Decatur.
“This year, the piano professors contacted me to help them find a location to perform. They were looking to share the love and perform somewhere they had never been before,” Gail said. “I put them in touch with MRI, and now they have a great Performance Learning opportunity playing in front of all the MRI residents.”
Millikin School of Music faculty members Dr. David Moore and Emma Taylor direct the Jazz Camp, while Dr. Pei-I Wang and Dr. Chung-Ha Kim lead the Piano Camp.
David said he had seen much advancement among his jazz ensemble players and was proud of their performance, which was the first public jazz concert for many of them.
“There has been a lot of improvement. At the start of the week, it was a challenge to get through one song and now they have four songs for our final performance on Saturday. I’m really proud of the work that they have all put in and it has been a lot of fun,” he said. “This was officially their first performance. I spoke with them beforehand, and a few of them were nervous. Some had experience playing in jazz bands before and for some of them, it was the first time they had ever played jazz.”
After the piano campers took turns playing their pieces – including a piano duet from Pei-I and Chung-Ha – the jazz ensemble played several songs, including an improvised performance featuring David on trumpet.
“A big part of this music is improvisation and making music on the spot. That can be scary, so there were some nerves,” David said. “We had them play 12-Bar Blues, which is a common musical form. I had them play the same tune and played a different melody over the top of it.”
The MRI residents appreciated the performances, and David plans to continue the camp with Emma next season and lead a Community Jazz Ensemble for high school-age players and above this fall and continue into the spring. If you are interested in taking part, check out the MCAA webpage for more information.