Brazilian music students enrich Columbia community

Friday, March 20, 2009 | 11:53 a.m. CDT; updated 10:18 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Jairo Wilkens, a clarinetist, and his wife Clenice Ortigara, a pianist, are both from Brazil and part of the Partners of the Americas exchange program.

This story has been updated to reflect a correction in the name of Jairo Wilkens.

COLUMBIA — Clenice Ortigara, a pianist studying at the MU School of Music, describes music as “part of being alive.” She says music pervades every aspect of her life – in conversation with her clarinetist husband, Jairo Wilkens, their voices rise and fall in pitch, rolling with melodic emphasis as they speak, their Brazilian roots explicit.

Ortigara and Wilkens, both from Belém in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, are studying at MU as a part of an exchange program developed 20 years ago. The exchange is a program of Partners of the Americas, a nonprofit organization created in 1963 to foster cooperation and cultural awareness among the peoples of the Western Hemisphere. The volunteer organization, launched by President John F. Kennedy, consists of 120 partners from North and South America joined into 60 partnerships. MU's exchange program is based upon music, but programs between other North-South partners allow exchange students to learn and work in the fields of science, medicine and more.

When Eva Szekely, a professor of violin and chamber music at the MU School of Music, visited the Carlos Gomes Conservatory in Belém with the Esterhazy Quartet in 1980, she found “quite a remarkable place, with a lot of potential.” After repeated visits by the quartet, the exchange program was formalized in 1989. Since then, more than 25 Brazilian students have visited MU, and 15 others have received their bachelor’s or master’s degrees from the School of Music.

Wilkens first visited in 1997 and enjoyed his experience so much he decided to return, along with Ortigara, in fall 2006. Both are now working on their master’s degrees.

Carolina Neves, a master’s student in violin performance, moved to Columbia from Belém in 2000 when her father, Nelson Neves, came to study for his master’s in piano performance. Her musical family led to her study of violin.

“I don’t know how to do anything else," Carolina Neves said. "In fact, I’ve never done anything else.”

The Brazilian students participate actively in the Columbia community. Neves and Ortigara both teach nonmusic majors as part of their master’s programs. Ortigara has more than 15 students, “from 6 years old until 60.” They all perform regularly in recitals and in community orchestras.

Szekely said the Brazilian students have brought “a different dimension of international diversity to the school. They get to interact and understand about different culture – not only different language – but different foods, different ways of learning, different repertoire – different types of music."

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