Student soloists go the extra measure

On Friday, Feb. 20, Jessica Wambeke and Andrew Miller performed a concert intended to showcase their talents to a packed crowd in Reynolds Recital Hall. The two were the winners of the music department’s annual concerto competition, which took place last November. With the entirety of MSU’s Symphony Orchestra as accompaniment, the two took to the stage and each performed a concerto (a solo with orchestral accompaniment).

Wambeke, a senior double majored in chemistry and music, inherited her love of music from a family brimming with passion and talent — her parents, both violinists, placed her into piano lessons with her grandmother at age three. “It started out as something I had to do,” Wambeke said, “And ended up being something I love.”

And love it she does — so much so that she went on to learn the cello, major in music and continue piano lessons to this day. Wambeke won November’s concerto competition with a piano concerto she’d been working on since the previous spring.

Winning the competition meant the world to Wambeke because performing as a soloist with an orchestra has always been a dream of hers. Speaking of when she played with the Glacier Valley Symphony Orchestra several years ago, she said, “They’d bring in soloists to play the concerto all the time, and I’d be sitting in the back in the cello section, thinking, ‘I want to do that someday; I want that to be me some day.’”

Andrew Miller, a senior in music education, entered the music world less conventionally. Though his background was slightly musical — he’d started taking piano lessons at age six, and had been taking percussion lessons since the fourth grade — Andrew originally enrolled at MSU with the intention of becoming a chemical engineer. However, after discovering the hefty price of a textbook needed for his German class, he decided to switch from German into the University Band, which gave him an epiphany. “I realized, ‘Wow, this is amazing! I didn’t know music could be like this,’” Miller said, “so I switched from engineering into music education. It’s just funny — if that book had been any cheaper, I probably wouldn’t have switched into [University] Band and discovered what I really wanted to do.”

Miller won the concerto competition with a 14-minute marimba piece he had been practicing for over a year. When he started learning the concerto, it was not with the competition in mind — he simply saw the piece on YouTube and thought it would be fun to learn.

This exemplifies what is perhaps the underlying theme of the music program: students need to be dedicated to succeed, but all the sacrifice is made in the name of something they genuinely love doing. Wambeke has nearly every hour of her day planned out, and splits her time between the lab and the practice room, while still finding time to play with the symphony, do homework, and work as a teaching assistant. But she is quick to point out that she is devoting her time to her passions. “I love it because you put on two different brains,” Wambeke said. “You put on your music brain; then you switch and go to a chemistry class. Going back and forth is such a plus — I wouldn’t have liked it any other way.”

Miller, too, is extraordinarily busy. He starts class at 8 a.m. each morning and doesn’t leave campus until 9 p.m. In addition to class, he plays in percussion ensembles, is a member of the orchestra and practices percussion pieces in private lessons. Over the years, he’s been a member of the marching band, the Wind Symphony and the Bozeman Symphony, and in between all that has managed to learn the basics of most band instruments, as is a requirement of any music education major. But, like Wambeke, he reiterated the fact that he loved every minute of it. “Music is a passion of mine. I like to practice; I like to sing; I play at church — it’s fun,” Miller said. “I think everyone should do music to some extent.”

Miller has one year left of school, after which he hopes to either work as a music teacher or go on to study performance work in graduate school. Wambeke graduates in the fall, and she is planning on attending graduate school to further her education in chemistry. The two share a positive attitude, a strong work ethic and a commitment to their passion evident in both the skill of their performances and the depth of their enthusiasm.