Posted by: Abby Rhodes | March 11, 2010

Brazil to receive influx of United Township grads this spring break

Scan the WIU Wind Ensemble Brazil tour program and you will notice a preponderance of alumni hailing from United Township High School.  In fact, nearly 15 percent of the band is made up of UT grads, by far the highest representation among any one school.  The prevalence of former Panthers could be due to their alma mater’s proximity to WIU.  East Moline is just over an hour’s drive from Macomb–relatively close to home, but just beyond the watchful eyes of mom and dad.  Yet  Amber and Yvonne Dean, Jacob Eastman, Robert Palmer, and Michael Taylor are more likely to credit  the strong connection the UT band program has fostered with WIU over the course of many years for their decision to come to Western.  UT Director of Bands David Maccabee strongly encourages his students to attend competitions and other band events at WIU annually–opportunities that often award high school students face time with Western’s music faculty, and coax many of them into considering the university for their post-high school education.  It’s a working relationship that travels both ways between Macomb and East Moline.

From left, Jacob Eastman, Robert Palmer, Amber Dean, Michael Taylor, and Yvonne Dean

“I remember a few years ago, while I as still in high school, Mr. Maccabee invited Dr. Fansler to come and conduct the UT symphonic band. He represents Western Illinois University very well and left a great impression on this individual in particular. Western Illinois University has always worked well with UT students, and has provided them with the help and support they need while making the transition into college,” said 2009 UT graduate Michael Taylor who now plays tuba for WIU.

Maccabee echoes Taylor’s sentiment, adding that he believes Western’s music faculty are committed to developing professional and personal relationships with their students.   And just as he works hard to prepare students for college, he applauds WIU’s efforts to ensure its students’ success beyond the classroom.

“Of course, the quality of the teaching is simply excellent. In addition, WIU music education majors find jobs! WIU has a superb record of placing its graduates,” said Maccabee.

Yvonne (left) and Amber Dean with their junior high band director Jim Weir, Dr. Mike Fansler (center), and David Maccabee

Look a little more closely at the program and you will notice another trend that should make Mr. Maccabee proud.  Four of his former students are the principle players in their respective instrumental sections (Palmer and Amber Dean take first and second chair in the horn section).  While these are clearly a group of shining stars, Palmer says Maccabee taught him that a successful ensemble is never about just one, or even five people.

“One thing I learned at UT is how to really play with an ensemble, and how to connect with the other players musically. Our director helped me a lot in that respect,” said Palmer, a 2005 UT graduate.

Maccabee also instilled in these students an appreciation for a variety of types of music from all around the world.

“Students in the UT band program are exposed to some of the most wonderful and challenging music in the world. We hope, and believe, this inspires a love and passion for music they carry with them the rest of their lives,” said Maccabee.

Soon these five students and the rest of their tour group will embark on an incredible journey that will allow them to connect musically, but also in other ways.  For the Dean sisters, Eastman, and Taylor, this will be the second opportunity to perform together internationally–Maccabee took them to France in 2007, which all say had a tremendous impact on them as musicians and travelers.  All four will point to a luggage debacle as being perhaps the most memorable part of the experience, but one that has prepared them well to take the unpredictable rigors of travel in stride.

“What we all learned from [the luggage problem] is that anything can happen. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and  try to ‘roll with the punches’ if something like this happens. Also, pack some clothing in your carry on,” said  2006 UT grad and WIU Wind Ensemble principle clarinet player Yvonne Dean.

With such comprehensive preparation in the rehearsal room, this group is prepared to handle any performance-related changes that may crop up in Brazil.  And Eastman says he has adopted a modus operandi that ensures he can adapt to any other challenges, as well.

“I’ve found that going on trips without any expectations and just going along for the ride is the best mind-set for me. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll ‘roll with the punches’ and be just fine, because after all, I’ll be in Brazil and loving every minute of it!” said the 2007 UT graduate and current WIU Wind Ensemble principle percussionist.

Whether it was their trip to France or just a long history of playing together, these students share a conspicuous bond that contributes to the cohesiveness of their current ensemble.  And their comfort level comes through during rehearsal breaks in the form of friendly banter and playful teasing.

“A lot of my best musical memories from UT are with all of them and it is really fun to talk about those events with each other,” said 2006 UT grad and WIU Wind Ensemble principle horn player Amber Dean.

Theirs is the kind of connection Dr. Fansler and other WIU faculty hope the Brazil tour will offer all the musicians involved.

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