UIS Music Program educates future leaders, enriches local music scene

Nestled in the heart of the University of Illinois Springfield campus lies a hidden gem – the UIS Music Program, a vibrant interdisciplinary unit committed to educating tomorrow’s leaders and enriching the local music scene. Housed in the Department of Art, Music and Theatre, the UIS Music Program offers a rich tapestry of classes across the disciplines of music and a full calendar of concerts, lectures and other events for students, faculty and the community.

At the core of our mission is the belief that music is critical to a liberal arts education. Beyond the development of musical technique and knowledge, music education helps students develop transferable skills critical to maintaining successful careers and leading fulfilling lives. Alongside traditional classes in Western art music history, music theory and world music, courses such as “Entrepreneurship in the Arts” help students unleash their creativity, hone critical thinking, ideation and collaboration skills and emerge as leaders in their respective fields driving innovation and progress. Courses such as “Black Music in American Culture” and “Music and Social Justice” place music at the forefront of some of the most pressing social issues of our time. These courses prepare students to navigate a world marked by increasing political polarization, entrenched economic disparities and marked systemic injustice.

Secondary music education often has a reputation of inaccessibility and exclusivity. Not so at UIS, where everyone is encouraged to take classes in music regardless of musical knowledge or training. Our generous array of institutional and donor-funded music scholarships enhances accessibility and the relative affordability of a college education at UIS. A point of pride is the Camerata Scholarship, a renewable performance scholarship that offers up to $8,000 to incoming student musicians pursuing any major. The Camerata Scholarship application deadline is April 5.

UIS Music faculty members are committed to creating opportunities for deep collaboration and knowledge exchange with the local community. Our university ensembles like orchestra, band, chorus and jazz boast significant participation by community musicians, many of whom are local music teachers and ensemble directors. Our on-campus performance offerings are supplemented by concerts in diverse locations around town including The Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space, Anvil and Forge, the Chatham Public Library and Dana-Thomas House.

Providing sustained educational and performance opportunities for the community is a primary prerogative. To this end, the UIS Community Music School offers affordable, high-quality instrumental and vocal instruction and a roster of professional musicians with extensive performance experience and rigorous teaching standards. The UIS String Academy, a joint venture with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, provides weekly group classes on violin, viola and cello to beginning and intermediate students over 6 years old. The annual UIS Honor Band Festival offers a day of rigorous workshops and rehearsals for advanced high school band musicians that culminates in a performance in Sangamon Auditorium.

UIS students have benefitted enormously from the Springfield community’s investment in our music program. While robust concert attendance provides an ideal atmosphere for student performers, generous donations enable numerous innovative educational and programming initiatives. We are thrilled this year to spearhead the Community Sounds Concert Series, featuring an array of musicians and musical styles from our local community, and made possible by the generosity of UIS Emeritus Professor Charlie Schweighauser and his wife, Barb. The Partnership in Education and Civic Engagement with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra provides a host of unique educational and career-building opportunities for UIS students. Last fall, I teamed up with the Jewish Federation of Springfield to present the Violins of Hope, a traveling exhibit of Holocaust violins brought back to life in a constellation of events highlighting local talent. 

A recent influx of talent on campus has enhanced our reputation as a hub of musical innovation and creativity. Supported by a $5,000 grant from the UIS Provost’s Office, UIS music instructor Ron Silver is piloting New Music Springfield, a concert series designed to fill a critical gap in musical programming in Springfield by featuring experimental, avant-garde and contemporary music. His new course, the “Make a Noise Ensemble,” invites the participation of students, faculty, staff and community members who are interested in experimental music; no musical experience is necessary. This year also saw the start of the Get Free Music Series co-hosted by UIS Music Instructor Adam Larison and Political Science Professor Richard Gilman-Opalsky. This series offers monthly evenings of free improvisation that challenge the boundaries of music composition and performance and push audiences outside of their comfort zone.

The Greek philosopher Plato once suggested, “Music gives soul to the universe and wings to the mind.” His ideas about music shaped the very structure of ancient Greek paideia, an education system designed to produce well-rounded, fully educated citizens. In a similar vein, Chinese philosopher Confucius described yayue (formal music) as critical to the cultivation and refinement of the individual. Indeed, the idea that music has moral and social significance endures at UIS, where we believe both in the power of music to heal, to bring pleasure and to serve as a space for exploring pressing and deeply human questions.

Music certainly has the power to unite, uplift and create a more beautiful world marked by open communication, compassion and empathy. Won’t you join us?

Yona Stamatis is director of the UIS Music Program and an associate professor of ethnomusicology. More information about the UIS Music Program, including information on scholarships, festivals and performances, can be found at uis.edu/music.

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