Ukraine Benefit Concert brings community together


Zohair Khan

Austyn Menk (from left) plays piano, Morgan Turner plays string bass, Kirby Fellis plays trombone and Noah Brooks plays drums in a jazz quartet (Zohair Khan | Northern Star)

By Daija Hammonds, Lifestyle Editor

DeKALB — NIU President Lisa Freeman started off Friday’s Ukraine Benefit Concert with a speech about people coming together to support communities abroad before introducing the first performance of the night. 

The concert was hosted by the NIU School of Music and was organized by NIU graduate students Jennalynn Cisna and Annie Chung. A crowd of roughly 75 attendants watched faculty and students showcase their talent for a cause. 

The concert was free to attend, but the School of Music asked for donations to four aid organizations: Mercy Corps, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Direct Relief and Save the Children. 

Carl and Robyn Menk, residents of Le Sueur, Minnesota, had previously attended the Megan Rault and Greg Comonal saxophone/guitar recital that happened earlier Friday to watch their son Austyn Menk play. Austyn, a tech, lab, supervisor and assistant at NIU, was also playing in the benefit concert, so Carl and Robyn stayed for both.

Carl was excited to attend the concert not only to support his son but also because the concert was really diverse and dealt with a heavy topic.     

“I hope it will be able to explain the unexplainable,” Carl said. His wife Robyn echoed that statement.

The first performance was conducted by Chung and a collaboration of strings and winds performed the Ukraine National Anthem, United Armed Forces Edition. 


The Ukraine National Anthem kicked off the musical performances. Cisna said she wanted to get together a group of performers to play the national anthem and Chung to conduct, but then they turned it into something bigger. It took them about four weeks and most of the spring break trying to plan and set up the concert. 

“We put Google Forms up for people to respond to and found that a lot of musicians and faculty were happy to sign up,” Chung said. 

Cisna and Chung said they hoped the concert would raise awareness and show people diversity through the gift of music.

Most of the performances were Ukrainian songs and hymns, there were a few that veered off but maintained the overall theme of the concert. The performers played each song with grace, precision and talent.

Music professor Gregory Beyer performed two songs using a Berimbau, a music bow that originated in Africa but is now commonly used in Brazil. Beyer also sang in Portuguese for his second performance. 

Before performing “Peace” by Horace Silver, Kirby Fellis, a graduate teaching assistant and trombone player, discussed how it has been heartbreaking to see the violence and racism against Black People in Ukraine.

The concert ended with Bryan A. Flippin, graduate assistant for the Huskie band, conducting the “Prayer for Ukraine.” The performers were met with a standing ovation from the crowd as the organizers, conductors and musicians took their final bow for the night.

Montez Soliz, a junior political science major, could not pick his favorite moment from the concert because he found it emotional and was moved by it all. 

“Since COVID happened it has been hard to get together, but this brought people together for a good cause,” Soliz said.