Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Press Releases
As an undergraduate at Millikin University, Jake Widenhofer '12 enjoyed the hands-on experiences of the Millikin School of Music while studying for his bachelor's degree. He understood that hard work and determination would help him make it as a professional musician. His hard work paid off as he recently became the new lead guitarist for Matthew West '99, an award-winning Contemporary Christian musician, and fellow Millikin alum.

"I had my first show with Matt in Decatur," said Widenhofer. "From here on out we will be playing festival shows for the majority of the summer; it's exciting."

Jake graduated from Millikin University with a degree in commercial music. While at Millikin, he studied and played many different styles of music. He performed with a variety of groups at Millikin including Jazz Band I, Guitar Ensemble I, OneVoice, and participated in recording sessions with other student artists. After graduation, Jake moved to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue a career in music.

When asked about how the opportunity to work with Matthew West came to be, Widenhofer said, "About two years ago, my Dad (Dr. Stephen Widenhofer), who taught Matt while he was at Millikin, thought he would be a good person to connect with since I was moving to Nashville. I ended up meeting with Matt at a show in the Quad Cities, and I had a chance to meet with his guitarist at the time. I happen to fill in during a few shows this past March, and when the time came for Matthew to switch things up with his band, I got the call."

Being put in many different musical situations is what helped make Jake a well-versed musician. Since moving to Nashville, he has had a lot of opportunities to play nationally and regionally. Jake has played with Melissa Greene, Griffin House, Carl Cartee, Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, SaraBeth, Gwen Sebastian, Matt Wertz, and Carrie Manolakos. He has also played in the studio on projects for Griffin House and other regional artists.

West, who, like Widenhofer, also graduated with a degree in commercial music, has released five studio albums since 2003. He has been nominated for eight Dove Awards, winning once in 2003 for his album "Happy." West won the 2013 American Music Award for Best Contemporary Inspirational Artist.

"Just a couple of short years ago, Dr. Stephen Widenhofer was telling me about his son who would soon be graduating from Millikin and making the pilgrimage to Nashville," said West. "He's one of the best young musicians I've heard in a long time, and I look forward to traveling around the country with another Millikin graduate taking the music to the people."

When asked about the opportunity to tour with West, Widenhofer said, "It's definitely a huge leap in my career from what I was doing to now – I really am living the dream. To get paid to play the guitar and to see the country is a pretty amazing thing. As a musician and especially as a songwriter, Matthew's songs are great."

Widenhofer says his time at Millikin helped him develop into the musician he is today. "Being at Millikin was great because of all the opportunities that were offered. For me, getting to play a lot of different musical styles and getting to play in the studio helped my overall guitar playing. From the academic side, I learned a lot in terms of reading music and thinking quickly."

West added, "My experience with Millikin University has truly come full circle. Dr. Widenhofer and the rest of the faculty in the School of Music helped to shape my love for music in the early stages of my development. Now, I have the honor of making music alongside the Doc's talented son."

Widenhofer went on to add that aspiring undergraduate musicians should take advantage of every opportunity available. "I tried to diversify myself as much as I could with music while I was at Millikin. Try to do as much as you can, and try to establish connections."

Music is an international language. So, when Millikin University Director of Choral Activities Dr. Brad Holmes was deciding where the Millikin University Choir should tour overseas, he knew the world was his oyster.

Every three years, Dr. Holmes leads the Millikin University Choir on a tour overseas to perform on various international stages. In May, the University Choir toured three European countries east of the Baltic Sea: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

"We went into countries where choral music is loved," said Dr. Holmes. "This area has become the center of the choral world. Many American choirs are performing music from this part of the world."

Performing six concerts, the Choir impressed many audiences while enjoying the cultural sites of Northern Europe.

"There were some cultural dynamic differences," said Emily Knezz, a senior music major from Pleasant Prairie, Wis. "But the appreciation from the audiences during the performances was so great."

The 45-member Millikin Choir began the tour on May 22 with an afternoon performance at the Santariskes Hospital in Vilnius, Lithuania, a teaching hospital of the Vilnius University Faculty of Medicine. Following their performance at the hospital, the Choir held a shared performance on May 23 at St. Catherine's Church in Vilnius with the Mixed Choir of Mykolas Riomeris University. 

"It was amazing to be able to perform in places such as castles and baroque churches," said Mike Claver, a senior music education major from Fox Lake, Ill. "We were able to connect to the audiences and erase any language barriers just by being able to share our music."

On May 24, the Millikin Choir traveled to Riga, the capital city of Latvia, where the group held a shared performance at St. Peter's Church with the Mixed Choir of Emīls Dārziņš. The Millikin Choir also performed during a Sunday Mass on May 25 at the Riga Dome Cathedral. The Riga Cathedral is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Latvia.

Dr. Holmes added, "Singing is so central to their culture, and in every single town there are festival grounds where people meet to sing. It's very interesting to see how music brings everyone together."

When asked about performing in different venues overseas, Emily Knezz said, "Each space is so different especially in the cathedrals and the castles – it stretched us both musically and mentally. I was amazed by how we came together for what we needed to do in each space from a performance perspective."

For the last stop on the tour, the Millikin Choir traveled to Tallinn, the capital and the largest city of Estonia, located in the northeast corner of the country. After touring the city, the Millikin Choir performed on May 27 at the Cathedral of Haapsalu, a landmark developed in the 13th century. The Choir's final concert of the tour was a shared performance on May 28 at St. John's Church with the Mixed Chamber Choir of Tallinn University.

"The students did very well on the tour, and I think they surprised a lot of people," said Dr. Holmes. "It was more than just good notes, the choir sang with a lot of persona."

The international tour was one of many reasons why Mike Claver enjoys the Performance Learning aspect of Millikin's School of Music. "Through the choir and through studying for my major, I've had so much on-site experience that I will be prepared to go into a future position with the knowledge and the confidence to know what to do. This trip is the culmination of that method – we take what we learn at Millikin and not only give it to domestic audiences, but share it across the world."

When asked about a return trip to Northern Europe, Dr. Holmes said, "I'm always trying to go to a new place and learn something new, but I think we would love to go back to these places."

Victoria Vargas, a senior music education major from New Lenox, Ill., added, "In the end, I felt this tour was for the people we performed for because they got so much out of it. It was truly life changing to have that kind of an impact on a room full of people. We always had audience members, which was amazing to me."

The flagship of the Millikin choral fleet, the University Choir, in recent years, has also toured internationally to Ireland, Scotland, England, China, Taiwan, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The Millikin University Choir has gained national recognition, due in part to six invitations to perform at national and regional conferences of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). With more than 300 singers, the Millikin choral program includes four traditional choirs led by a nationally recognized staff of conductors. For more information on the Millikin choral program, visit

The culmination of Millikin University's Master of Business Administration (MBA) program is an 11-day immersion trip to China in May. It's an opportunity for MBA students to see how business operates in an entirely different part of the world, and allows students to apply what they've learned throughout the MBA program abroad.

Beyond the lessons of international business, the MBA students took part in a case competition study during their visit to Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE). As one of the top universities in China, SUFE is a world-renowned finance and economics-oriented research university.

"The China trip is always enlightening for everyone in the program," said Dr. Anthony Liberatore, director of the MBA program. "Being able to experience a different economy and a different culture opens people's eyes to how a business operates outside the United States. It's essential for business executives to see how international business operates."

For the competition, Millikin and SUFE MBA teams were tasked with creating a business plan for Oilman Group Ltd., a Chinese company engaged in the manufacturing and supply of oilfield equipment. Most of the products are for onshore drilling and producing equipment.

"Getting a chance to immerse in the Chinese culture from a scholastic perspective was fantastic," said Fred Serven '14, a recent MBA graduate from Decatur, Ill. "In terms of the competition, it was a complex case, but we gathered information on the cultural nuances of the market that the company wanted to enter."

The goal of the competition was to create a plan for how the company could expand its business into the United States. More specifically, the company was interested in knowing which of its product lines would have the best prospects in the United States, what challenges and opportunities would the company face in expanding to the U.S., and if the timing is right for a U.S. market entry.

"We were fortunate enough to have SUFE offer their resources, and bring together their students with our students to work on the case competition," said Dr. Liberatore. "It was interesting to see how teams approached the competition and to see how they've been trained. The Millikin students did a good job of focusing on the strategic elements of the business plan."

The MBA teams prepared for the competition by gathering research on the topic and developing an executive report. Each team had 10 to 12 minutes to make their presentation in front of a panel of judges. Top teams from both Millikin and SUFE were selected.

Looking back on the competition, Fred Serven felt the MBA program prepared the students well for the opportunity. "We were well-coached through Dr. Liberatore and the Millikin faculty. They taught the importance of making clear points, and we had a lot of practice by making several presentations throughout the course of the MBA program. The program helps develop real world business skills."

In addition to the competition, the Millikin MBA students met with SUFE professors and visited the SUFE Library. The library contained a copy of the "Handbook on the Geopolitics of Business," a book written by Dr. J. Mark Munoz, Millikin professor of international management. The book features contributions from Dr. Anthony Liberatore.

The Millikin students also toured the Volkswagen automobile manufacturing facility in Shanghai, and made a visit to Beijing to see the Great Wall of China.

Greg Mills, a 2014 MBA graduate from Forsyth, Ill., says, "When looking back on everything, I feel the visit to China was a good experience. It was very interesting to be educated on business from a Chinese perspective. To see how business is conducted from their eyes is unique."

Mills also shared his thoughts on being a part of the Millikin MBA program. "It created a new energy for learning. From an MBA cohort perspective, there was good learning amongst colleagues and it was great to look back on the success we had in class."

When asked about the benefits of the China experience, Dr. Liberatore says, "It's a chance for the students to study how things operate in China from a business perspective. It's an executive-level education and experience, and I think it opens up people's executive-level thinking skills."

Millikin University's annual Celebrations of Scholarship is a day where performance learning comes to the forefront for everyone to see. Students from all disciplines shared their work and highlighted the depth of learning that occurs on campus.

As part of this event, several Millikin fine arts students were able to demonstrate the process of creating art and music. Millikin art students and faculty members from Carriage House Press revealed the making of print art with the use of a steamroller. Members of the Millikin vocal jazz ensemble, OneVoice, performed a recording session in Millitrax Recording Studio, providing observers a live experience of making a record.


"It's a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, and included many hours of carving," said Dylan Schietinger '14, a recent studio art graduate from Mount Auburn, Ill. "It's always interesting to see people's reactions to printmaking with a steamroller because it's rare."

Carriage House Press artists used hand and power tools to carve giant wooden blocks which were inked and covered with paper or fabric outside Kirkland Fine Arts Center. After being flattened by the steamroller, the material was drawn back to reveal the artist's print. The theme for the exhibition was "Mythology."

Schietinger added, "What's great about Celebrations of Scholarship as well as other venues, such as Blue Connection, is the feedback we get from students and professors. It's great that so many people can get involved."

Lyle Salmi, Millikin associate professor of art, and the students decided to exhibit the printmaking process due to the success of recent steamroller events: "That's How We Roll," held in September 2012, and "Paws for a Cause," held in May 2013. Prints from "Paws for a Cause" were made available during a silent auction to help raise proceeds for the Decatur & Macon County Animal Shelter Foundation (DMCASF).

"We decided that Celebrations of Scholarship would be a great time to showcase this event because it is a performance piece," said Salmi. "It's way for us to take printmaking and aspects of printmaking out into the community. We feel that aspects of what we do at Carriage House Press embody the idea of performance learning."

Carriage House Press is Decatur's only fine art printing press, specializing in archival limited edition etchings and relief prints. Located in the historic Carriage House at the James Millikin Homestead, the press has provided Millikin University student and faculty artists a venue to design, print, and study since 2009. 

"It's a great event because it shows what the Millikin Art Department is capable of and it shows the success of the students," said Maya Holst '14, a recent art therapy graduate from Homewood, Ill. "Making print art with a steamroller is a creative process and it's becoming an annual event at Millikin."


OneVoice, Millikin's flagship ensemble of the vocal jazz program, provided guests an example of how the producer, engineer and artists work together in the studio to make a record. The group held a recording session in Millitrax Recording Studio to demonstrate creative aspects of the music recording process.

"Millitrax is central to our curriculum in commercial music and music business," said Dr. Stephen Widenhofer, director of the Millikin School of Music. "We have had a studio on campus since the late 1970s and it has helped us find a niche market for students wanting to work in that area of the music industry."

With the music and rhythm tracks already recorded, the recording session primarily focused on the vocals, and the use of effects such as overdubbing and vocal layering.

When asked about the important factors of recording, Dr. Widenhofer says, "Patience, collaboration, and being on top of your part musically are important things. It's also important to have the ability to be flexible to the whims of the producer."

Millitrax Recording Studio consists of two studios, analog and digital. Studio A includes a large tracking room, isolation room, control room, and machine room. Studio B features the mixing room with a digital console.

Millitrax has also been an important part of Millikin's student-run recording companies, Blue Box Records and First Step Records. Now in its 15th year, First Step Records is a student-operated record label and publishing company providing hands-on experience in the business of music. Blue Box Records, an extension of First Step Records, is an expanded hub for commercial music ventures.

"Not many schools have facilities like ours," said Dr. Widenhofer. "Performance learning is what we do in the School of Music, both theory and practice. Millikin musicians perform in the practice room, studio, on the stage, and in the classroom."

Millikin University's Collegiate DECA Chapter received several awards for outstanding efforts at the 2014 Collegiate DECA International Career Development Conference (ICDC) held April 23-26 in Washington, D.C.

For the third year in a row, Millikin's chapter earned a plaque for reaching the Presidential Level of the Leadership Passport Program. Jamie Rockhold, a senior accounting and information systems double major from Clinton, Ill., earned a plaque for reaching the Gold Diamond Level of the Individual Passport Program. The DECA Passport Program rewards action taken by members and chapters that build personal and professional skill sets.

"In addition to learning about business operations and entrepreneurship, Collegiate DECA allowed me to develop my leadership and professional skills alongside a strong and motivated team of fellow students and supportive faculty advisors," said Rockhold. "Being awarded the Gold Diamond Level of the Individual Leadership Passport Program for actively participating in the areas of innovation, competence, teamwork, and integrity along with many other memorable experiences will be something I carry forward into my professional career."

Students Jake Hazelton, a senior marketing major from Wilmington, Ill., Michael Kerfoot, a senior entrepreneurship major from St. Charles, Mo., Andy Roth, a senior sports management major from Naperville, Ill., and James Vavak, a senior business management major from Fenton, Mo., earned medals for being named finalists in the DECA Entrepreneurship Challenge Competition, and for being named finalists in the Sports and Entertainment Marketing Competition.

"The competitions were great for the students," said Dr. Carrie Trimble, Millikin assistant professor of marketing. "The students were able to take the experiences they learned in class and use them in these competitions. The students were very comfortable talking about international business and emerging markets. The experience was a confidence builder."

During the Entrepreneurship Challenge, students worked in teams to create a unique business concept based on a theme provided during the conference. Each team made a brief presentation to one or more judges who determined which team made the best business pitch. The top teams from the preliminary competition moved on to the finals, where they competed for awards and recognition. Over 40 teams participated in the challenge.

Millikin's team created a bicycle tour and rental business concept that would be based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The bicycles would have GPS-activated devices that would provide audio and map tours for people to use while exploring Rio de Janeiro.

"Having the opportunity to be around other entrepreneurs and to be a part of the business bubble was great," said James Vavak. "We did so much work as far as competitions go, but we enjoyed every aspect of it. I think we had a great idea in terms of the entrepreneurship competition and we were proud to be recognized for it."

During the Sports and Entertainment Marketing Competition, the Millikin team was assigned a scenario where they role-played as an on-demand internet streaming media company faced with a decision to partner with a leading cable company. The team was asked to provide a recommendation and the reasons for their decision in front of a judge.

When asked about the ongoing success at the conference, James Vavak added, "The conference offered the same performance learning experiences that we've learned at Millikin. As far as communicating our ideas in front of a judge, I think we had a huge advantage at the conference because it's something we're always practicing through the Tabor School of Business. It's all about creating solutions and being able to communicate."

In addition to Millikin's success at the conference, alumna Ellen Tolley Davis '00 was the featured keynote speaker during the ICDC Opening Session. Davis is senior vice president of the National Retail Federation (NRF) and executive director of the NRF Foundation. Davis joined NRF in 2002 as manager of media relations and continued in positions of greater responsibility in the communications and public affairs department before assuming her current position in 2012. She graduated with a degree in communication from Millikin.

"The conference was above my expectations," said Andy Roth. "It creates a great atmosphere in terms of a business world and it provides that extra step of experience. The fact that we came away with awards proves that what we are learning at Millikin is playing into effect."

DECA is currently organized into two unique student divisions each with programs designed to address the learning styles, interest and focus of its members. The Collegiate Division includes over 15,000 members in 200 colleges and universities. For more information on DECA, visit

Millikin University undergraduate Hailee Peck, a junior mathematics and Spanish double major from Livermore, Calif., was named an Honorable Mention Award recipient for the 2014 Barry M. Goldwater Foundation Scholarship Competition. This prestigious and highly-competitive national competition recognizes excellence in science, mathematics, and education. Only 300 students nationwide are awarded full scholarships and approximately 30 are awarded Honorable Mention.

"It is very exciting to have a Millikin student earn this recognition from a competition involving the very best undergraduate science and mathematics students from around the country," said Dr. Travis Wilcoxen, Millikin assistant professor of biology and Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship faculty representative. "Excellence in performance learning demonstrated by Hailee and the faculty with whom she works were critical to this success."

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship Program was created to encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering and to foster excellence in those fields. The Foundation awards undergraduate scholarships to outstanding students, to be known as Barry Goldwater Scholars, in the spring of 2014 for use during the 2014–2015 academic year.

"Upon hearing the news that I had received an Honorable Mention for the Goldwater scholarship, I was extremely excited and honored to have been given national recognition for something that I love doing," said Peck. "These accomplishments have not been achieved by myself alone, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped me to get where I am in my undergraduate career. I hope to keep working hard on my research and see where the future takes me."

Four-year institutions were eligible to nominate up to four students who are in the sophomore or junior class during the 2013–2014 academic year. The Goldwater Foundation places equal value in terms of student quality and scientific merit for each Honorable Mention and full scholarship winner.

"It has been my pleasure to work with Hailee during her three years here at Millikin," said Dr. Joe Stickles, Millikin professor of mathematics. "Her recognition by the Barry Goldwater Foundation shows that others around the country are realizing that she is a rare talent. Hailee has already accomplished so much, including having published two papers in professional mathematics journals, giving numerous presentations at conferences, and completing a rigorous summer program at Cornell University last year."

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was authorized by the United States Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. To view a list of the 2014 Honorable Mention Scholars, visit

In addition to this recognition, Hailee will participate in the Women and Mathematics program held at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in May 2014. The program brings together research mathematicians with undergraduate and graduate students on the campus of the Institute for Advanced Study and is designed to address issues of gender imbalance in mathematics. Activities include lectures and seminars on a focused mathematical topic, mentoring, and seminars about career opportunities and women in the sciences.

Following her experience at Princeton, Hailee will attend the Summer Mathematics Research Program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, from June 16 – August 8. This highly selective, extremely rigorous program lasts for eight weeks and has previously invited students from such places as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailee will be studying the field of combinatorics and how the subject matter applies to other fields of mathematics.

Dr. Stickles added, "Not only will Hailee have the opportunity this summer to network with influential female mathematicians, she will also be doing research alongside students from Duke, Harvard, and MIT. Even with all she has accomplished so far, I know this is just the tip of the iceberg for Hailee."

Students in Millikin University's International Marketing course were given a rare opportunity during the fall semester, to create a marketing strategy for Volx, a rock climbing equipment company based in Lyon, France. The goal of the project was to offer recommendations regarding entrance into the United States business market. In January, the business undergrads traveled to France to present their recommendations to Volx officials.

As part of the project, the students performed extensive research on the United States rock climbing industry and developed an executive report. The report was divided into five sections: Current Market Situation, Competition, Distribution Analysis, Critical Risk Factors, and Recommendations. Each section led to a conclusion that the students believed would benefit Volx the most.

Dennis Schwieger, Millikin instructor of marketing, who led the course, says, "Normally, people think of export when they think of international business, but this was an import project. The company wants to export from France and import their product into the United States, and they wanted to know how to go about doing it. We researched the industry, analyzed the competitors, and then made a recommendation."

The executive report highlighted key U.S. rock climbing trends in the industry and safety regulations, as well as updates on walls, holds, and types of climbing that are currently popular. 

"We were able to tour their facility, meet their CEO and CFO, see the development of their product, and then we made our presentation," said James Vavak, a senior business management major from Fenton, Mo. "The representatives from the company were very engaged throughout our presentation. They asked many questions and they were very intrigued with some of the trends as far as how and where rock climbing facilities are expanding."

The students' executive report recommended that the U.S. market for rock climbing equipment, more specifically rock climbing holds, is at a lucrative juncture. Based on their research, the students determined that the current customer base is expanding and that rock climbing is a safe fitness alternative and recreational activity.

Vavak added, "Having the opportunity to not only present to the company, but to communicate with their CEO and CFO, gave me the confidence to know that I can do this in the professional world. Working with an international company really opened my eyes to the way they do business and helped me understand their priorities."

The students believed that Volx's product would be ideal for consumers aged 25 and under. The students also recommended, when trying to enter the United States market, that the company should go through a distributor that operates on an international level.

"An experience like this changes students' horizons tremendously and changes their perceptions on parts of the world," said Schwieger. "As an instructor, to have such a motivated group of students was great. This type of trip is vital for the students because many companies today deal with global business."

The Volx officials expressed interest in implementing the student's recommendations as well as having Millikin pursue further research on this subject in the future.

When asked about developing the marketing strategy, Jacob Hazelton, a senior marketing major from Wilmington, Ill., said, "It was a living document; the more research we did and the more we learned about the product then the more we could provide in terms of recommendations. Being able to go over to another country, present information, and see how excited and enthusiastic they were was great."

In addition to the presentation, the students visited Paris as well as the Centre d'Études Franco-Américain de Management (CEFAM), an international business school located in Lyon that specializes in marketing, management and finance.

Schwieger added, "I think the company really appreciated their work. The students were outstanding during the presentation and they did a great job with follow-up questions. They were very professional."

Dr. Mark Samples, first-year assistant professor of music and coordinator of musicology at Millikin University, is gaining attention for his ground breaking research efforts on commercialism in 20th and 21st century music. In his first academic year, Samples has presented his research at one national conference and will be presenting at two more national music conferences this spring. His research efforts will also be highlighted in an upcoming national publication.

Samples currently researches the role of commercialism in music after 1800, from Jenny Lind to Joan Baez, Tom Waits and Sufjan Stevens. Samples teaches music history with an emphasis on western classical music as well as ethnomusicology.

"My goal for the academic year was to get one major publication in the pipeline and to share my research at one major national conference," said Samples. "It's become a busy year, and having the opportunity to present my research at three national conferences is very exciting."

Samples' work titled "Timbre and Legal Likeness: The Case of Tom Waits," was met with great interest and discussion during the American Musicological Society (AMS) National Conference, held November 2013, in Pittsburgh, Pa. The paper explores Samples' view on how musicians should consider timbre or tone quality, both vocal and instrumental, to be a core part of their commercial brands. His expanded research will be published in a book on timbre called "The Relentless Pursuit of Tone: Timbre and Popular Music" (Oxford University Press).

In March, Samples will be attending the Society for American Music (SAM) National Conference in Lancaster, Pa., to present research on the 1960s American folk music scene and artists such as Joan Baez. He will also be traveling to the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum in Seattle, Wash., to present at the 2014 Pop Conference this April. The Pop Conference brings together a rare mix of academics, recording artists, music journalists, and industry executives to share ideas about popular music.

"All three of these opportunities have linked to my overall research plan which is the commercial branding of music and musicians," said Samples. "How musicians brand themselves and how they present their commercial identity to the public are key aspects of my research. This is an area that is cutting edge because people have been reluctant to talk about branding in music. Art has been seen as set apart from commerce."

Samples also emphasizes how artists must understand how to communicate with the broader public in certain strategic ways. In terms of branding, Sample uses the term "commercial identity" to explain how artists must find ways to form, articulate, and distribute their art, but also to retain a distinction between their public and private lives. Samples says, "Through my research, I hope that my students gain a better understanding of how to navigate this fine line in their own careers."

"Mark loves teaching, first and foremost, and has established an impressive resume in that important area of faculty work in the first stages of his career," said Dr. Stephen Widenhofer, director of the Millikin School of Music and professor of music. "His research focus, music and branding, is ground breaking in many ways. There just aren't that many people doing scholarship in that area, thus, we are excited to see what kind of results will emerge from his efforts."

Samples added, "I've been very pleased with the success that this research is getting. It's more than what I've expected, and what it tells me is that we are ready to talk about these topics."

Samples is also looking forward to sharing his research with the Millikin community. "One of the reasons why Millikin was so appealing to me is because Millikin is light years ahead of other institutions on this subject. Millikin's curriculum allows students to develop the artistry of their craft. It also teaches students the strategies and skills needed to succeed professionally, which goes to the heart of the mission, and that is performance learning."

Millikin University's January Immersion courses are designed to provide great experiences for undergrads who want to develop new skills or learn about rare topics. This January, several Millikin theatre students received a semester's worth of acting techniques by learning about the Margolis Method, an approach taught by award-winning director and teacher Kari Margolis that merges all the skill sets of acting, directing and playwriting.

Margolis is the director and lead faculty at the Margolis Method Center in Highland Lake, N.Y. She has developed and oversees the Center's Summer Program, Professional Certification, University Professor Certification and Long Distance Learning Programs.

"This is Kari's fifth year of leading this immersion experience and the students spent about five hours a day studying the method," said Denise Myers, Millikin associate professor of theatre and dance. "When Kari first came to Millikin, she worked on a project that was performed on campus. This year she taught technique and developed another original show." 

The course merges vocal and physical expression through daily exercises that focus on the actor as central to the creative process. Margolis has been developing this method through daily studio research over the last 30 years, and it has grown into an internationally recognized methodology.

"My goal, after the short period of time, is to have the students leave here much stronger and much more empowered," said Margolis. "The method is about taking all the mystery and the magic out of acting and to give the actors concrete skill sets."

Meghan Bryan, a sophomore theatre major from Broadlands, Va., says the method is "new and it took my initial thought of theatre and turned it around completely. When going through the class every day, you think about ways of applying this method to theatre and how to further develop your craft."

Margolis says she worked with the students on the very basics of storytelling, communication, and inspiring the audience's imagination. Throughout the residency the students used these lessons to imaginarily create a show. 

"Every single day the students were creating characters and developing a play about a group of actors all showing up to an audition," said Margolis. "Each day I created structures for them and they would take the skill sets and start adding context, and at the end of the day we were working on scenes created by the students."

Peter Kattner, a senior theatre major from Chicago added, "I think this class shows the importance of learning your craft especially in terms of theatre. There is so much more than memorizing lines or saying things with a certain inflection. This class inspires actors to go beyond their limitations, it's empowering."

This year's course culminated with a public performance of the show on Millikin University's campus on Jan. 18 highlighting the students' scholarly training. The show was simply titled "The Audition." 

"In the end it's about learning cause and effect, and how to absorb a cause before you express an effect," said Travis Neese, a senior theatre major from Story City, Iowa. "It's very physics-based and it can be a dynamic approach to acting. Now that I took this course the method makes so much sense and this approach can be used in so many different ways."

After five years of teaching the method to Millikin undergrads Margolis continues to be impressed with the work of the students. "I look forward to this course as one of my favorite residencies. I travel all over the world and I truly look forward to this as one of the highlights of my year. I continue to keep up-to-date on Millikin students who I've worked with over the last five years."

Denise Myers added, "We are learning technique and applying it constantly. It's interesting because some of the students might have an inkling towards playwriting or directing, and even though it is an acting class the students are also able to walk out of here as better directors or writers."

Millikin University faculty members Dr. Stephen Frech, associate professor of English, and Dr. Chung-Ha Kim, adjunct faculty member in the Millikin School of Music, have released a CD featuring a dual performance of poetry and music titled "A Palace of Strangers Is No City." The CD is currently available through Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby as well as other sites.

"A Palace of Strangers Is No City," features 22 poems from a chapbook published by Dr. Frech in 2011. The poems tell the story of two lovers on opposite sides of an occupied city. The arrangement alternates with musical excerpts from Czech composer Leoš Janáček's "On An Overgrown Path."

"The project started out as a publication of mine in 2011 and it's a sequence of 22 poems and flash fiction that tells the story," said Frech. "The main character goes on a journey across a mythic place to meet the lover. In September 2011, Chung-Ha and I did a dual performance in Kaeuper Hall of the readings along with music pieces by Leoš Janáček."

The male character of the story, having narrowly escaped the random police arrests, is now officially a fugitive and flees to his fiancée's house by going through Old Town. That medieval city center becomes the primary setting of the story and the meditative landscape of the character's flight. Full of questions about whom to trust, what to believe, and making use of a highly unusual second-person narrator, the sequence feels dreamlike and surreal.

"Working on this project with Chung-Ha was wonderful and working with music specifically for this project was new," said Frech. "I had not collaborated musically with anyone as a writer before and for me it seemed surprising because I've held the opinion that poetry is first and foremost song. I had this sense that the sound quality of a poem is a vital importance to the life of that poem."

Janáček's "On An Overgrown Path," a collection of 15 piano pieces, was composed during the first decade of the 20th century. It displays influences of Moravian folk songs and is programmatic. The first 10 pieces have titles that describe a place, a state of mind, or an action.

"These pieces are very beautiful and intimate," said Kim. "They deserve to be heard more often and I'm glad that we were able to use selections from this particular set for our project. It's wonderful to see how giving them a new context ends up redefining their meaning."

Frech added, "I collaborated with primarily visual artists before this project and in that respect this project highlighted the mood for me which I had treated primarily as imaginative and cityscape. The city, which was loosely modeled on Prague, becomes an imaginative landscape for the sequence. For me, the musical pieces highlighted everything in a different way."

Written in the traditions of fabulist literature and prose poetry, Dr. Frech says prose poetry can "often read like a dream moving along like a story in which strange, unexpected things can happen, and feel quite natural."

John Dalton, author of "Heaven Lake," says "'A Palace of Strangers Is No City' is a one-of-a-kind experience. In just 22 elegant pages it contains an epic journey across an imagined city. The happenings in this city are surreal, ominous, funny and vivid. The circumstances may be dreamlike, but the longing and the wisdom are entirely real."

When asked about the possibility of pursuing future projects of poetry and music, Frech said, "It was the first experience I've had with poetry and music, and on rare occasions I've seen dual performances. I think there is an opportunity to make, at least in my field, poetry readings a little more interesting by doing dual performances which appeal to a wider audience. This project has been so gratifying and I would love to do it again."

1 - 10 Next
Skip navigation links
Press Releases
There are no items in this list.

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