MISSOULA – A vocal scholarship brought Neal Lewing to the University of Montana School of Music in 1970. The prolific musician, producer and arts educator will pay it forward, presenting a benefit concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 9, in the School of Music Recital Hall.
The concert is free and open to the public. In lieu of admission, Lewing encourages friends and fans to make a donation to the School of Music General Scholarship Fund.
Lewing’s performance on the historic stage is especially meaningful. The senior recital in that hall has been a rite of passage for UM music students since the building was constructed more than 60 years ago. But as Lewing entered his junior year, a heart-to-heart with his adviser, the late Professor George Lewis, changed the course of his career and interrupted his education before he had a chance to perform in the Music Recital Hall.
Lewing already was playing as a professional, and business was booming. Struggling to balance his work and academic life, he sought advice from Lewis, who encouraged him to follow his heart and go on the road. In 1972, Lewing did just that.
“I went to UM for four years and finished in 1974,” he said. “I never got a degree, though I did get an education. George Lewis taught me how to keep my voice in shape and to follow my star.”
Lewing’s star led to performing on stages around the country and being heard on radio stations around the globe. He toured with the Missoula Children’s Theatre, performed and directed music for the Fort Peck Summer Theatre, and co-founded and directed Deer Lodge’s Old Prison Players.
A passionate advocate of arts education, Lewing still performs and teaches in schools and communities around Montana. He was appointed by the governor to serve on the Montana Arts council from 2001 to 2007. In 2008, the Polson Chamber of Commerce named him the Polson Ambassador of the Year in recognition of his contributions to the community as managing director of the Port Polson Players. For more than 30 years, Lewing and his wife, Karen, have led the company, which features multilevel programs such as community theater, children’s theater, summer theater and other performing arts opportunities.
Though there’s certain to be nostalgia in the air, Lewing is clear that he devised the feel-good concert with the future in mind.
“I’ve made my life in music and theater and would like to recognize my roots and give back to promote the same for young people,” he said. And he hopes his story will inspire students facing a crossroads as they make career decisions. “Obviously, one does not have to follow any specific roadmap to have a successful and productive life in the arts.”
To make a gift to the UM School of Music Scholarship Fund, call Christian Gold Stagg, UM College of Visual and Performing Arts director of development, at 406-243-4990, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://umt.edu/umarts.
Western Montana, Local