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Duck pond visit inspires winning composition for Montana State music student

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Austin Whisler, a sophomore in music education in the School of Music in the College of Arts and Architecture at Montana State University, has won a spot in a music festival in Italy after submitting his musical composition in the SoundSCAPE composition contest. MSU PHOTO BY ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ

By Carol Schmidt MSU NEWS SERVICE

BOZEMAN – A composition inspired by a Bridger Range snow cloud this winter has won a Montana State University sophomore music student a place at the SoundSCAPE composition and contemporary music festival in Italy this summer.

Austin Whisler said he was standing by the MSU Duck Pond where the rise and fall of a cloud inspired his musical composition, “I Saw a Cloud.”

A sophomore from Boulder Creek, California, and student in the Honors College, the composition was something of a freshman effort for Whisler, who took his first music composition class fall semester.

“The piece follows the cloud as I imagined it, descending upon the Bridger ridgeline and into the Gallatin Valley where it becomes a fierce, if short-lived, snowstorm,” Whisler said. He said the melody quickly took form in his mind as a sextet for French horns. A fourth-generation musician, Whisler has played French horn since he was in fifth grade.

“I had a wonderful time writing this piece and workshopping/adapting the work with the help of the French horn studio and ensemble,” he said.

A short time later, Whisler spied a poster in Howard Hall for a composition competition to participate in the soundSCAPE Festival in Bobbio, Italy, in July and decided to submit “I Saw a Cloud.” The submission required the piece of music, a rough-draft of a recording and a brief biography.

Whisler said he thought the entry was a long shot, and quickly forgot about it. But just before spring break he received an email that he was accepted into the festival that runs July 6-16.

“And it’s been a whirlwind ever since,” Whisler said.

Part of the reason that it is hectic is that now Whisler must compose a new piece of music to be performed at the festival, this one a 5- to 7-minute duet for an oboe and a percussion instrument. Whisler said he is working with MSU School of Music faculty, including clarinet and composition professor Greg Young, on the new piece. While at the festival, Whisler will work with music composition faculty from Rice University, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Toronto to refine and prepare the piece for a performance at the festival.

Following the festival, Whisler plans to take off a few more weeks from his summer job as a line cook for Eddie’s Café in Glacier National Park and travel in Europe with his sister.

In addition to composing music, Whisler plays in the Wind Symphony, the MSU Orchestra, the Brass Quintet, the French Horn Ensemble and the Spirit of the West marching band. The low brass and horn ensembles will play Whisler’s original composition, “I Saw a Cloud,” at a concert later this semester.

Whisler said he expects the opportunity to participate in the international festival to be life-changing. But the timing of getting into the festival has also changed his life direction. While he previously was a double major in both music and neuroscience, he has decided to focus on just a music major, with an eventual plan to audition for graduate school in music.

“It’s all about those little moments where something just resonates with you,” Whisler said about the excitement he feels working with composition. “You know it when you get those chills down your spine.”

Young said that Whisler is both talented and an effervescent personality, which has contributed to his early success.

“Austin comes into class with both energy and a smile and seems over-the-top excited to compose music and to share it with his peers,” Young said. “I’m sure this will carry him along way. His mixture of talent, enthusiasm and dedication will surely brighten his future.”

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