Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Alumni Reflections

Marc Widenhofer

Class of 2009

During my time at Millikin, I was fortunate to win the Concerto/ Aria Competition, Roger Schuler Jazz Award, and the Percussion Achievement Award. Upon graduation, I was admitted into the University of Northern Colorado’s award winning jazz studies program where I was the teaching assistant for the jazz history sequence, directed the university’s Blue Room Combo, co-directed Jazz Lab Band V and graduated in 2011 with a Master of Music in Jazz Studies.

I believe that the requirements and expectations for achievement at Millikin push students to a level of performance that is second to virtually no other institution. Professor Justison guides you in programming challenging repertoire ranging from classical percussion literature to jazz, rock, pop and world music. These individualized programs of study are designed to cater to the student’s needs and musical interests while maintaining high expectations for musicianship and execution.

Marc is currently a freelance drummer and adjunct instructor at Lander University, University of South Carolina (Aiken) and the University of South Carolina (Columbia).


Peter Manzi

Class of 2007 

 When someone asks me about the percussion program at Millikin University the first thing that comes to my mind is a studio dedicated to creating an individualized program catering to the wants and needs of every percussion student. As an instrumental music education major I was able to sit down with knowledgeable faculty and build a four year curriculum that aided me in learning skills that would help me as a performer and in the classroom. I was given the opportunity to chose and perform music that challenged me as well as helped me build my own educational philosophies in percussion pedagogy. During my time in the percussion studio I was given the opportunity to conduct both the MU Percussion Ensemble 2 and the Decatur Youth Symphony Orchestra Percussion Ensemble. Conducting these ensembles gave me the opportunity to try new conducting and pedagogical techniques in rehearsals. Immediately following, I was able to discuss these experiences with faculty and get valuable feedback. Also, while in the studio I had numerous opportunities to perform and conduct locally, regionally, and internationally. These performances aided me in helping me find a job after graduation. Some of my most memorable performances were performing a duo percussion concerto with the Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra, conducting the DYSO Percussion Ensemble at the 2007 IMEA All-State Convention and most memorable performing in the Dominican Republic, especially the amphitheater at Altos de Chavon.

One would be hard pressed to find a studio like the Millikin University Percussion Studio. The attention and dedication given to each individual is priceless and now that I am in the field teaching, I am so grateful for all the opportunities and guidance given to me. If I were given the opportunity to do college over again, I would not hesitate to come back to Millikin.

Peter is currently Director of Bands at Central A&M High School.


Weston Dombroski

Class of 2007

Millikin University and its percussion studio gave me the tools to succeed in the post-college music world. My specific experience affirmed that each student is treated as an individual. Weekly lessons provided one-on-one time (with the professor) necessary to grow as a unique and marketable musician. Ensembles from classical to contemporary styles also explored a wide variety of musical genres.  As a double major (Music Business and Commercial Music), I acquired a vast array of skills relevant the music industry side of things.  Yet, both programs offered ample performance opportunities and training.  The Commercial Music program provided the opportunity to explore the composing and recording side of the music world. The Music Business program focused on the practical knowledge necessary to make a living in the music industry from understanding wordy contracts to exploring the latest Internet piracy lawsuits. As for the percussion studio, it is one of great integrity and discipline. Each of the faculty members is easily accessible and willing to share his collective wealth of musical knowledge–and also any wisdom on life picked up along the way.  The self-discipline, practice habits, and work ethic that you will undoubtedly take from this studio are invaluable to any aspiring musician and provide an advantage on the competition with respect to future employment.

Weston is currently finishing law school at the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago.


Robert Novara

Class of 2006

One of Millikin’s greatest assets is its faculty.  The percussion faculty gave me great guidance and support over my four years by helping me find my passions and goals, and worked with me to reach those goals.   Brian Justison, Jeremy Brunk, and Amanda Legner are all excellent teachers who truly take the time to get to know each individual student, as a player and a person.  In weekly lessons students are exposed to a wide variety of repertoire, establishing a strong foundation.  Over my four years the faculty worked to improve my weaknesses and build on my strengths, making me a better player. 

The number of opportunities to perform and excel is another great strength of Millikin University.  As a commercial music major, I had the opportunity to focus on both music performance and technology in the music world.  In my four years I gained experience performing in Wind Ensemble, Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra, Percussion Ensemble, World Percussion Ensemble, 20th Century Percussion Ensemble, Pop Rock Band, Solo Recitals, Concerto Competitions as well as several accompaniment opportunities in musicals and plays.  As a commercial music major, I also received training in recording studio operations and video editing, lead by professors who have worked professionally in the industry.  Millikin’s smaller class sizes ensure that every student receives enough help and attention from University professors.   Millikin University is an excellent choice for any percussionist who is serious about making music their life.

Robert is currently a freelance teacher and performer in the Chicago area.


Charles Aldous

Class of 2005

I chose Commercial Music as my major because it allowed me to focus on the aspects of music that most interested me without neglecting others.  The percussion program gave me many opportunities which helped me grow academically, musically and socially.  These opportunities included performances in ensembles and recitals, recording studio time as an engineer and a player, and personal study in my musical field with the guidance of many skilled professors. With my main interests being recording studio technology I was able, through Millikin's flexible music program, to balance my musical interests in percussion with my technical interests in the recording studio.  This flexibility would not be possible if it were not for the tight bond that was created, which allowed me to grow in musical and technical ways though both programs.  This situation allowed me to observe and participate in a professional social network, which is the underlying factor in the program's success.

Charles is currently an electrical engineer at  Etymotic (Auditory) Research, Inc. in Chicago.

Darin Holthaus

Class of 2004 

The high expectations of dependability and commitment combined with the sheer number of opportunities offered, are what separates the Millikin University percussion studio from all others.  As a commercial music major, the percussion studio and School of Music offered me a multitude of memorable performance experiences, including touring internationally and playing at some of the world’s most renowned music conferences such as PASIC and IAJE.  My ensemble experiences included the World Percussion Ensemble,  Chamber Percussion Ensemble, Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra, Wind ensemble, Jazz Lab 1 and several small combos encompassing various styles of music. I had every opportunity to hone my musical/percussive abilities, not only in the practice room and performance halls, but in one of the most technologically advanced university-owned recording studios in the Midwest. With drum set as my primary instrument, the Millitrax recording studio was one of the most grueling, yet,  fun and accurate representations of my progression as a musician. It is truly a great tool that any musician can use and gain from. The faculty hold you accountable for every note that you practice and perform. It is an intense challenge, but truly a fantastic experience that will develop you intellectually, musically and help you in becoming an even more well rounded person.

Darin is currently a freelance musician and teacher living in Springfield, IL.

Angela Rudd

Class of 2004 

 The Millikin University Percussion Department helped me see opportunities that I never knew were possible.  In addition to the typical lessons and ensembles offered, I was able to be involved in premieres, recordings, percussion ensembles of all types, performing with the African Dance Ensemble, numerous recitals and tours, conducting opportunities, Vespers, performing solos with percussion ensemble and MDSO, competing and winning the 2003 Millikin Concerto Competition and the 2005 Hollis Prize, performing at PASIC 2003, and performing at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago.

The percussion faculty played a huge role in my development in both musicianship and character.  They were encouraging and supportive at all times and truly went out of their way time after time to help me grow. The percussion faculty helped me see possibilities for my future.  I gained a wide variety of experiences that allowed me to be a well‑rounded and successful percussionist.

The percussion department offers something for everyone.  Students can pick from a plethora of ensembles and can tailor their experiences to fit their aspirations.

Angela is currently a freelance teacher and Master's student (percussion performance) at Northern Illinois University.

Kevin Lewis

Class of 2003

Upon reflecting on my time in the percussion studio at Millikin, it is quite apparent that the education that I received there was critically essential to my continued education and my current endeavors as a professional performer and pedagogue.  Few percussion programs offer what I found at Millikin: a knowledgeable, concerned, and friendly faculty experienced in all genres of percussion (from orchestral playing to commercial styles to African percussion), the opportunity to work in a professional‑quality recording studio, and the experience of playing with diverse ensembles that include traditional and contemporary percussion ensemble literature and world percussion. 

Individual performance opportunities are ample, and I found myself performing in studio classes, weekly school‑wide recitals, an annual solo prize‑competition, and as a soloist with a ragtime ensemble.  Not to be overlooked, the opportunities that I had as a student‑teacher in the Millikin preparatory program and as a substitute conductor for the percussion ensembles offered the rare opportunity for an undergraduate to gain teaching experience and prepared me for my current position as a college‑level percussion educator.  In short, an education at Millikin will prepare you for whatever you would like to do.

Dr. Lewis is currently a member of the Akros Percussion Collective (chamber ensemble) and section percussionist in the Akron Symphony Orchestra.

Joel Styzens

Class of 2003

As a Music Business major with a emphasis in percussion performance, Millikin presented me with the ultimate set of opportunities to venture into allareas of music and the business of music.  Within my degree program I studied Music Theory, Ear Training, Music History, Studio Recording and Engineering, Music Software, Music Publishing & Copyright, Marketing, Management, and my favorite, Accounting!  I was also able to take an Ethnomusicology class, Art classes and a Psychology class among many others.

It took some time management skills, but Millikin gave me the incredible faculty and an unheard of number of classes and opportunities to create my own learning experience, and to study everything that I wanted to study‑‑and all in four years!

A few personal highlights include my travels to the Dominican Republic with two MU ensembles, the 2003 Percussion Ensemble PASIC performance, and the many opportunities to perform alongside my teachers.

Selected Performance Opportunities: (as a Music Business major!)

Jazz combo, Jazz Big Band, Advanced Jazz Combo, Free Jazz group, Percussion Ensemble I & II, World Percussion Group, Concert Band, One Voice (vocal jazz group) and Wind Ensemble.

Joel is currently a freelance composer and performer in the Chicago area. He is also founder of the A-Sharp record label.

Ken Potts

Class of 2003

A commitment to the percussion studio at Millikin University is a commitment to quality, integrity, and meaningful music making.  Initially a music education student, I decided to major in percussion performance because of the established traditional performance core and flexible elective options.  I had many interests within the school of music as well as in the humanities division, so the ability to explore all of these areas offered a very important and memorable college experience.  After countless campus performing opportunities (both solo and ensemble), a two year recording project, and a trip to perform with the ensemble at PASIC 2003, I fondly remember my time at Millikin and value the distinct and caring faculty that fostered my growth as a musician and person.  A member of the percussion studio, whether major or minor, will experience immense personal growth while gaining a better sense of preparation, commitment, and critical thinking principals valued by future teachers, conductors, and employers in every discipline.

Ken currently teaches in the Humanities department at the College Of Dupage in Glen Ellyn, IL.

Greg Fundis

Class of 1999 

As a Commercial Music major at Millikin, I was allowed the opportunity to shape an education and hands-on experience in performance, music theory and industry, and sound recording.   The Bachelor of Music: Commercial program is a unique and flexible opportunity to choose your musical focus while getting a taste of them all.  Experiences on stage and in the studio with World Music Ensemble, Chamber Percussion Ensemble, Jazz Lab band, vocal jazz groups and combos were essential to building a depth of useful skills I find myself using all the time on professional gigs and sessions.  If you dig performing, recording, and shedding wood (practicing), the percussion and studio facilities are incredible and above par compared to any other institutions in the US.  If writing is your thing, you have great musicians and studio to play/record your music, can get your MIDI and Finale chops together in the labs and focus on comp courses and/or songwriting workshops.  Whatever you may choose, work hard, take it all in while you have this great University and Faculty available to you and you will be sure to leave Millikin more well-rounded, experienced and ready to work in the real world.  Oh yeah. . .(the gen ed English courses will also help you when writing your GRAMMY acceptance speech too!)

Greg is currently touring with the group Math Games featuring guitarist Fareed Haque.


Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL