BOZEMAN – Award-winning composer Eric Funk compares the pieces of music that will be performed by Montana State University piano students at the Pianoforte concert to be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, in Reynolds Recital Hall, to a box of chocolates.

“Each (piece) will be different, with different textures and flavors,” said Funk, who is also an MSU music professor. “And each piece will be delicious.”

“Montana, Op. 157: An Album of Twelve Tone Paintings and Trees for Two Pianos” will be an evening of original Funk compositions performed by MSU students and faculty in the School of Music in the College of Arts and Architecture. Proceeds from the concert, which is called Pianoforte, will benefit Magic 88, a new scholarship fund for MSU students interested in studying piano.

MSU Piano Students Rehearsing for Fundraiser
Montana State University piano students in the School of Music, along with faculty Julie Gossweiler and Ken Christensen, will be performing a new piece by music faculty Eric Funk, during a fundraising concert on Saturday, Feb. 29. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Twelve MSU piano students, all students of piano professors Julie Gosswiller and Ken Christensen, will play pieces that Funk published last year, each inspired by a different part of Montana based on Funk’s fond memories for the locations.

For instance, Mason Elkin, a sophomore music technology major from Billings, plays a lyrical “Prairie Waltz at The Pines.” Funk said the piece was inspired by his childhood visits to family friends who had a lodge near Lolo, a place he describes as “magical.” Elkin said he connected to the short yet elegant piece of syncopated music.

Samantha DeMars, a sophomore music education major from Winifred, connected to “Bear Paw Battlefield.” Her piece, which opens the collection, is purposefully slow and powerful. Funk writes that his memories of the battlefield — where Chief Joseph once said, “I will fight no more forever,” — are of the radiant power of the land and a somberness that he captures in the piece.

On the other end of the tonal spectrum is a crashing, dramatic piece called “The Majesty of Montana.” Funk said he thought of the Big Open of the Rocky Mountain Front near Choteau when he composed the piece, where the craggy mountains of Glacier National Park rise suddenly and dissonantly from the prairie. Kiff Landeck, a freshman majoring in music computer science from Lone Tree, Colorado, said he picked the thundering piece reminiscent of Rachmaninoff because its drama reminded him of mountains, particularly of a hike on the challenging mountainscape of Humboldt Peak, one of the 14,000-foot peaks in his native Colorado.

“It’s a lot of fun to play,” he said of the fast and technical piece.

And Trace Ketterling, a music technology major from Cheyenne, Wyoming, picked “The Shifting Subtle Light of Secret Montana,” a piece that Funk said was inspired by the golden light of the plains of eastern Montana near Miles City. Funk said his intent was that the music breathe and shift subtly, as the light also shifts in the area. In its rhythms the piece reveals the beauty and complexity appreciated with studied contemplation. Ketterling said he appreciated the music box quality of the piece.

In all, the subjects of the pieces range from Deer Lodge to cascading Palisade Falls.

“I think it will be special and fun,” Funk said.

The students will also play some collaborative piano works by George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.

The performance will include with the debut of an original collaboration between Funk and Richard Powers, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Overstory.” Funk will read three poems written by Powers while Goswiller and Christensen play a companion piece that Funk composed for two pianos.

Powers wrote the poems while living in Bozeman a few years ago. Powers was working on “The Overstory” at the time, Funk said, and the two developed a friendship.

“Richard spoke to me in poems, and I answered him in music,” Funk said about the collaboration between the two artists. He said that Powers wanted to try his hand at poetry, “a direction he’s always wished he pursued more centrally.” The writer, who often specializes in writing about science, picked the topic of trees for the poems, which is also the subject of his great novel that won the Pulitzer in 2019.

The program will conclude with all pianists performing one number together.

Reservations for the concert are $25 and should be made through the MSU Alumni Foundation’s website. The website also provides an opportunity for additional donations to the program. Tickets also will be available at the door if any remain.

 Reynolds Recital Hall is located in Howard Hall, across the street from the MSU Duck Pond.

- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service -

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