The Mott Community College (MCC) Jazz Band & Combo have delighted the Greater Flint Community with outreach performances everywhere from the First Frost event at the Flint Institute of Arts, to Downtown’s 2nd Friday ArtWalks. As a community college, MCC makes it part of their mission to bring music to the community through their music program. That is their outreach – and, the best part is that anyone can get involved.
“It is a completely different experience for the
students to perform for the community.”
Dr. Townes Osborn Miller
Dr. Townes Osborn Miller, a flutist, Associate Professor of Music and the Program & Outreach Coordinator explains, “To be a music major in the program, you do have to audition. But, anyone can participate in any of our classes or ensembles – including the Jazz Band or Jazz Combo – without auditioning.” In fact, the Jazz groups have regular community members who have continued to come back every season.
Frank Yon, a trumpet player and teacher who has led the Jazz Combo for years emphasizes, “the Combo’s focus is musical improvisation.” The small group has five to nine members of varied experience and skill levels. “As long as you can play and want to play, whatever level you’re at, we can make it work,” Yon explains. “We take you where you are and help you get somewhere.” In fact, Yon says, “The adult community members are a good part of what we have in our group and they really help solidify the instrumentation, as well as act as mentors for the students.”
According to John Hill – teacher, drummer, Flint Symphony Orchestra musician and Jazz Ensemble leader – the power behind the program is its inclusivity. “Students get to play music with people who have been playing their whole lives,” Hill says, “and along with the literature, training and experience, we can take them to the next level.” Hill has taught the Jazz Ensemble for about seven years. “There are people from the community who have been there longer than I have and keep coming back – the ensemble is completely like a family,” he shares. “We have students who join every semester as well, and this mix makes for a strong music program. It’s been just great!”
The Jazz Combo and Ensemble are part of the larger Outreach Program and they perform all over Flint. They play Tunes at Noon in UM-Flint’s Willson Park, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the FIA, The Whiting and wherever else they can serve the community through music. Because it’s the most portable, the Jazz Combo is the group that gets sent out to perform most often, Yon explains.
The music outreach at MCC is not only fantastic for the community, but is a wealth of experience for the students. “It is a completely different experience for the students to perform for the community,”
Dr. Miller explains. “It helps them to get over their fears and realize that it isn’t about them – it’s about the music. And that the more you perform, the easier it gets.”
The amount of performance experience MCC students get is one of the major benefits of the smaller institution. “In a four-year program, you have to compete with the juniors and seniors for outreach gigs, whereas at MCC, you join as a freshman and jump right in,” Dr. Miller says. “In that way, we’re in a unique and powerful position to be able to offer our students opportunities straight out of the gate.”
The professors are excited about the new semester, to say the least. What Hill, Yon and Dr. Miller have in common is an obvious passion and excitement for music, the community and for teaching. Dr. Miller thinks this comes from their own lives as active musicians, and from their love for Flint. When she moved here from Kansas City – officially in 2011 – she says she “fell in love with not only Mott, but the Cultural Center. It is the hidden crown jewel, and we have so many things in Downtown Flint that I feel are still hidden.” And what she has been most impressed by is the passion of the community and MCC. “I’ve been taken aback by, and grateful for, the enthusiasm and the passion of every single instructor – not only in the music program, but at the institution as a whole. There is such a drive from my colleagues that is critical to this program. It’s humbling and it’s fun to come to work.” Dr. Miller attributes that to the way she and her colleagues stay active with music in Flint. “We practice what we preach, and I think our students see that we are living and working as musicians and that brings them another level of learning.”
MCC offers an Associate of Fine Arts in Music and an Associate of Applied Science in Music Technology, as well as a Music Technology Certification. The Jazz Band and Combo are just two of a score of ensemble opportunities. Keep an ear to the ground for upcoming performances, and to get involved, visit music.mcc.edu.
Photos by Eric Dutro and Supplied by MCC