Millikin students and School of Music faculty perform in Brazil

The Millikin University Brazilian Ensemble made five performances during their trip.

Brazil Trip

DECATUR, Ill. – Even as Millikin University Associate Professor of Music Mark Tonelli was on his Fulbright Scholar trip to Brazil in 2022, he was making plans for a return trip.

“(The Fulbright) changed me for the better. It was a life-changing experience,” Mark said. “To teach every day in Portuguese as a visiting professor was transformative. To live in a foreign country for five months with my family, that was part of the adventure to watch the transformation happen in them as well.”

Tonelli built a strong network of connections and friends at his host institution – the Universidade Federal de Uberlândia (UFU), located in Uberlândia, Minas Gerais, Brazil – and less than a year later, Tonelli returned with four Millikin students and another Millikin faculty member to get a first-hand 10-day Brazilian music experience trip from March 14-25. 

Brazil Trip
Members of the Millikin University Brazilian Ensemble (from left to right) Lorimer Arteaga, Kyle McMillen, Dane Edwards, Jaden DeLay, Dr. Emma Taylor and Dr. Mark Tonelli (seated) during their trip to Brazil. 

The group, known as the Millikin University Brazilian Ensemble, represented the Jazz Educators Network and Guitar Club student organizations and included School of Music Adjunct Professor Dr. Emma Taylor ’18 on bass and voice, Kyle McMillen on percussions, Lorimer Arteaga on saxophone and voice, Dane Edwards on guitar, Jaden DeLay on trombone, and Mark providing guitar support. 

Kyle, a junior Arts Tech major and Music minor, made his first international trip with the group. 

“This trip has given me a passion for music in a way I haven’t had before,” he said. “In the percussion studio, we do a lot of world music and learn about African and Cuban drumming. I had already enjoyed playing a lot of the samba instruments, so I was excited about this opportunity to actually go and play this music.”

The ensemble worked for several weeks in the studio to prepare for five scheduled performances they planned to make on the trip. The group learned the differences between Brazilian and American audiences when taking the stage in Brazil. 

Brazil Trip
The Millikin University Brazilian Ensemble on the UFU campus. 

“The relationship between the audience and the performers is a lot closer. On the first night we were there, some students and professors from the university played, and then they had people from the audience come up and sit in,” Kyle said. “I went up and sat down, and they said, ‘Samba?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ It was really fun.”

The group tapped into the connections that music brings to people who may have few obvious similarities. 

“Despite a language barrier, the universal language is music. Musicians can sit down and perform a piece of music and have a common understanding,” Mark said. 

The ensemble balanced downtime and performances during their visit, and Mark credits his former colleagues at UFU with making the trip a success. While there, Millikin signed an accord with UFU to form a student exchange. Mark is also optimistic about having professors come to Decatur to do a residency at Millikin and make another trip with Millikin students. 

“I can’t overstate the importance of having that relationship with UFU. They organized the performances and helped us with logistics, provided the majority of the instruments that we played and amplifiers and sound equipment,” Mark said. “Without having that relationship, I don’t think the trip would have happened.”

A Performance Learning highlight for Kyle was getting some personal instruction from UFU professors to improve the ensemble’s techniques in playing the music of Brazil. 

Brazil Trip
UFU's Dr. Raphael Ferreira works with Millikin students during a Masterclass. 

“After we did a show, everyone told us we did so well and thanked us, but nobody would give us any comments that we could work on,” Kyle said. “But after we did the Masterclass, the professors gave us some corrections. When we played our next gig, everyone told us it was like night and day and we sounded so much more Brazilian. It was a very supportive environment, and everyone wants you to be a part of it and partake in it.”

Following the Masterclass, the students took their critiques and worked to incorporate them into their next performance. 

“One thing that impressed me was (after the Masterclass), the students were coming to me and saying we want to change this in the arrangement, and we want to add this,” Mark said. “I could hear them practicing in their hotel rooms and talking with each other. Right away, they were incorporating what they were learning. They led the charge that way, and I wasn’t expecting that.”

Kyle’s time in Brazil has given him the key to playing Brazilian music that he will take into future performances. It has also inspired him to continue his interest in international travel. 

Brazil Trip
The Millikin University Brazilian Ensemble prepares to perform at The Opera Bar in Brazil. 

“One of the drummers there told me that they gave me the password to Brazilian music, and I have a much deeper understanding of the culture and appreciation to play more of their music,” Kyle said. “I want to go back to Brazil at some point. I want to go to other places too. It has given me much more confidence in my ability to function in another country.

“Going to another culture is not terrifying or jarring as people sometimes think it can be. There are many commonalities, especially in the music spirit. We all know the same tunes even though we don’t know the same language.”