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Apr 30, 2014

JMU Graduate students share Brazilian culture through Music


Michel Nirenberg and Henrique Batista

JMU Graduate Music program encourages cross-cultural opportunities for graduate students by inviting award-winning musicians from Brazil

James Madison University offers many options for students to engage in global educational experiences, from study abroad programs to the rich interactions between students from the United States and international students on campus. Cross-cultural interactions are powerful ways for graduate students in music to learn new perspectives and thus transform the way they view the world. They offer students opportunities to share new sounds, exchange ideas, and grow as musicians. Dr. Amadi Azikiwe, a Graduate Professor in the School of Music reflected on the value of his own experiences and training through interactional exchanges, highlighting the central role of culture in the study of music: "Our art form at JMU has been through many cultures and we play music from dozens of countries." To encourage understanding of the global contexts of music, the School of Music participates in a program that encourages cross-cultural opportunities for graduate students by inviting award-winning musicians from Brazil to compete for an assistantship position and share their unique perspectives with the university.

Michel Nirenberg and Henrique Batista's journey to JMU started within a competitive national competition in Brazil known as the Concurso Jovens Músicos-Música no Museu. After several rounds of the competition facing talented musicians from throughout their home country, Michel and Henrique were awarded with second and third place. The prizes for the competition ranged from recitals and monetary awards to the opportunity to apply for an assistantship position at JMU. Michel and Henrique were particularly attracted to the incentive of pursuing a graduate degree in music at JMU and after successful interviews with the faculty were selected for the assistantship positions.

Michel received his Bachelor's degree in Music from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and now studies saxophone performance and teaches the saxophone chamber music class at JMU. The language barrier made living in the United States difficult at first. Michel's advice to international students is to "mentally prepare and know that you are going to have to put the time and energy into studying while also learning English." Michel has taken full advantage of the educational experience and transformed his initial culture shock into a positive and motivating factor for his many successes. The culture shock allowed him to see his surroundings from a different perspective and as a result play differently. His graduate recital is scheduled for May 3, 2014 at 6:00 in Forbes Center Recital Hall. This concert will showcase some classical pieces and Brazilian tunes. Michel's final performance will highlight his musical accomplishments while here at JMU, while also sharing his cultural background from Brazil.

Henrique received his Bachelor's degree from the Brazilian Conservatory of Music and now studies percussion at JMU. He faced a difficult decision when he was given the opportunity to attend James Madison University because he was already working in Rio de Janeiro as a rising freelance musician, which included working for the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra as a substitute, and touring Australia with his Brazilian Music Trio Almendrix. Thus Henrique was well on his way to building a reputation as a standout percussionist in his home country. However, he always wanted to earn a Master's Degree in the United States, so he seized the opportunity and could not be happier with his decision. Henrique works as a graduate assistant to Dr. Speare, Graduate Program Director. Henrique performed in the percussion concert on March 29, 2014 where he played a Brazilian Samba Parade as a way for the audience to experience his culture.

Michel and Henrique commend the faculty's student-centered approach to music education at JMU. Henrique stated, "The faculty here really support you and serve as mentors."  Henrique stated, "The best part about being at James Madison University is a new perspective. I recognize that the professors are intelligent, experienced, and can get you exactly where you need to be. I am very open to new ideas after studying in the Graduate Program".  Henrique will be attending James Madison University for another year. He is considering continuing his studies and earning his DMA or potentially moving back to Rio de Janeiro.            

Michel further reflected, "The professors here are really open minded and I can share my own background and keep growing artistically. The music faculty provides me with many opportunities to teach music. There is a trust relationship between students and faculty and this allows the Music graduate students to carry these responsibilities forward into future careers." Michel will be graduating in May with a Master's of Music degree. He plans to pursue his career as a soloist in Washington, D.C., writing, arranging and composing his own music. His style can be understood as Brazilian jazz, which is referred to as Choro. Michel aims to record his first album after graduation.

Dr. Amadi Azikiwe emphasizes the importance of such interactional experiences within the graduate programs in music at JMU. Azikiwe says, "The students at JMU who study with me have the further benefit of my own personal international experience, which includes performing and teaching in Hong Kong, Switzerland, South America and Central America." Simply stated, Azikiwe believes that international music education is "a wonderful way to experience the world."

Kiara Mauro ('15)



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