DECATUR — Smooth tunes proved to be the key to effective fundraising Sunday evening as the Millikin Faculty Jazz Quartet played from the pages of what its leader called “the Great American Songbook.”

Professor Steve Widenhofer, director of Millikin’s School of Music, served up Cole Porter and foot-tapping show numbers at the Jazz in June event at the Beach House restaurant in Nelson Park. The three-hour show, combined with a buffet dinner, was a fundraiser for the Symphony Orchestra Guild of Decatur, which supports the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra and works hard to nurture young musicians.

Widenhofer, the son of a professional keyboard player who became hooked on jazz listening to his brother’s record collection, said every crowd is different and so is the measure of whether it’s enjoying itself. “No dancing, it’s not geared for that here,” said the 61-year-old keyboard player with a grin. “But if they are smiling and having a good time, it’ll be just fine.”

And his audience was all smiles as more than 120 guests settled in to listen and enjoy their food and wine on a balmy summer evening by the lake shore. Decatur jazz fan Ritchie Barnett, who came with his wife, Sandy, said America’s homegrown music puts a song in your heart: “It’s enjoyable, lively, pleasant music; music that picks you up,” he added.

“It’s feel-good stuff.”

Orchestra Guild President-elect Shirley Swarthout, who was manning the ticket desk Sunday, said her organization has plenty of activities to feel good about itself but needs money to keep them all going. Aside from its support of the orchestra, it has an extensive involvement in music education. Activities range from bringing in professional groups to play for and inspire elementary age students, to helping to run a lending library of instruments for Decatur public school children. She says budding musicians get the chance to play instruments they might not otherwise be able to afford.

“The idea is always to encourage children,” she added. “We want to introduce children to band and orchestra instruments and, hopefully, encourage the next generation of musicians.”


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