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October 14, 2015

This summer five music students traveled to Colombia to perform, teach workshops and experience the world. PHOTO: Courtesy of Mark Harris.
This summer five music students traveled to Colombia to perform, teach workshops and experience the world. PHOTO: Courtesy of Mark Harris.

Five students from the Department of Music jazzed up their college experience with a two-week visit to Colombia this summer. But this was no vacation – the jazz combo known as Punch was there to perform, teach workshops and experience the local culture.

“Our students performed great. They represented the department, the jazz program and University well,” said Mark Harris, assistant professor of studio saxophone and improvisation, who accompanied the group.

This unique immersion experience was organized through a relationship with Centro Colombo Americano Medellin, a language school that also sponsors an annual University Jazz Festival. Now in its sixth year, the three-night festival featured three college bands from the United States and three from Colombia. Each night, two bands entertained an audience in a 1,500-seat concert hall in downtown Medellin.

But that was only one part of the experience. The band also performed in two other Colombian cities and ran a series of all-day workshops called jazz camps with students from ages 13-25.

The band was ready for the performances, having prepared during the spring semester and early in the summer. But the group did not have much experience teaching or even working with kids, let alone kids who didn’t speak the same language.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” said Harris. “We learned a lot by doing and music was our common language.”

While Colombian students learned more about improvisational jazz, the MSU Denver students also were learning.

“Many of our students had not been out of the country prior to this,” said Harris. “So, having the opportunity to visit another country, trying to communicate in a different language and being immersed in another culture, left a powerful impression.”

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