Posted by: Abby Rhodes | March 16, 2010

Beyond words

Language barriers often pose the biggest challenges for international travelers.  After three full days in Brazil, the WIU Wind Ensemble members are becoming more comfortable using simple phrases like “thank you” (obrigado/a) and “hello” (tchau) during everyday encounters with locals, but the prospect of learning from and working with their Brazilian counterparts—students and professors at a Salvador university—was a bit more daunting.  But after about two hours at Universidade Federal da Bahia, any anxiety over these Americans’ Portuguese language deficiency had turned to amazement by music’s ability to bridge communication gaps.

In a percussion clinic, the instructor spoke just a few words of English at the start of the lesson, then relied for the next hour solely on his ability to teach through demonstration.  It’s an education method proven effective here in Brazil where even the most accomplished drummers are unlikely to ever learn to read music.  Rather, they learn to play by watching and emulating.  And that’s just what Adam Brostowitz, Jacob Eastman, Sam Page, Mike Schrach, and alum Steve Scherer had the pleasure of doing today.

WIU alumnus Steve Scherer, who is playing percussion with the Wind Ensemble on the Brazil tour, said each rhythm the instructor taught the section could be identified by name and has a particular significance.

“When they play it, they’re saying something. They’re not only playing the rhythm, they’re saying something.  Everything has meaning behind it.  That’s the part that just blows my mind,” said Scherer.

In another classroom, the rest of the band received a lecture and demonstration of Brazilian music from UFBA’s professors and students.  The clinics were followed by a Wind Ensemble performance and a short period of interaction between the students of both schools as the WIU players packed up to head to their next gig.

With their newly enhanced knowledge of Brazil’s contributions to world music, the band went into its second collaboration of the day eager to play with members of a local orchestra, Neojibá.  The setting was Teatro Castro Alves, a large fine arts facility where the Bahia state orchestra rehearses and high profile musical and theatric performances are held.  The modern venue is a source of pride in Salvador, and its spacious rehearsal room, complete with an observation deck, offered the Wind Ensemble its first opportunity in Brazil to play amid familiar conditions.

Neojibá had been rehearsing one of the Wind Ensemble’s tour selections, Sensemayá, for months in preparation for today’s meeting.  Dr. Mike Fansler marveled at the young students’ aptitude, and WIU band members echoed the same sentiment.

“Typically, when you collaborate with another group, you select simple music, which is easily played and adaptable to different situations.  I was very surprised when I learned the youth orchestra wanted to play the rhythmically sophisticated Sensemayá.  Even the regular conductor suggested we practice first to familiarize the players with my conducting.  Instead, we played a spectacular performance on our first try,” said Fansler.

Check out the video below for clips of the band’s joint performance with the orchestra.

An eventful day topped off with another opportunity to use music to break down cultural barriers.  Salvador’s blazing daytime heat gave way to a cool, light breeze just in time for an evening concert in a gorgeous outdoor performance space.  Here, the WIU group met famed Brazilian Maestro Fred Dantas and his band, Fevros e Dobrados.

Dr. Mike Fansler and Maestro Fred Dantas

“Fred is one of the leaders in inspiring young people to get involved in music.  He’s like a one-man social movement,” says Doug Adair, WIU alumnus and Salvador resident.

WIU Wind Ensemble gives outdoor performance in Salvador's Pelhourino district

Dantas’ group is comprised of musicians of all ages and specializes in a traditional type of Brazilian music written for bands.  Between each bands’ performance and their combined concert, the event lasted several hours, but the Wind Ensemble was much too thrilled to feel fatigued at the end.  Instead, they eagerly posed for pictures with their Brazilian counterparts.

WIU studnets Rachel Middlesworth, Yvonne Dean, and Andrea Todd pose with Brazilian clarinet players after their bands' joint performance



  1. those videos are pretty neat

  2. It’s great that the language barrier hasn’t prevented the music from being learned and spread.

  3. It’s amazing how quickly and effectively the percussionists above bridged the language gap and were creating music.

  4. I’d agree with Kasey. It’s really cool how some things break language barriers, such as music. I’ve also always loved all the cool rhythms and sounds percussion can create. I find it very interesting. (PS. i almost was a percussionist…but i found a better calling) 🙂 looks like everyone’s having fun!

  5. I think it’s awesome how even though there is a language barrier people are able to connect through the music 🙂

  6. Thanks for including this video for us to see. This was a great experience for the percussion students.

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