MISSOULA – Michael Zarling, a pianist and University of Montana Pharm.D. Program student, delivered a noteworthy performance at the 27th annual Francis Walton Competition in Seattle and won a tour to play throughout western Washington.
The competition, held last summer and hosted by the Ladies Musical Club of Seattle, brought together 25 classical artists ages 20-35 from across the western states. Zarling became one of the four soloists to win the competition with his performance of “Poem” by Arno Babajanian and “Spanish Rhapsody” by Franz Liszt. Along with the tour, he received a $3,000 cash prize.
A Minnesota native, Zarling began piano lessons at the age of 5 and moved to Helena with his family in 2006. He continued piano in UM’s School of Music as a pre-pharmacy undergraduate at UM, studying under professors Christopher Hahn and Steven Hesla.
Zarling said even as a pharmacy student, the professors always allowed him to participate in their recitals, concert series and national conferences.
“They were also supportive every time I applied to and prepared for a competition,” Zarling said. “Dr. Hahn was actually the one who brought the LMC competition to my attention and encouraged me to go for it. Overall, they’re a great group of people.”
In 2012, Zarling became the first non-music major to win UM’s Concerto/Aria Competition, and he placed in the 2009, 2013 and 2015 Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras competitions. He also recently was an alternate national finalist in the Music Teachers National Association Steinway Piano competition.
Zarling said he heard about the LMC competition only a few weeks before the application deadline, so he used a recording he and his teacher made in January as a practice run for another competition. He was nervous because many finalists were completing a master’s or doctoral degree in music performance from some of the most prominent music schools in the country.
“I thought I was going to get owned by everyone else, so I decided that I’d just go and have fun and be grateful to share the same stage as these people (the finalists),” Zarling said. “The day of the competition I ended up having a fantastic performance to which the four judges really responded to, and the next thing I know I’m having to play in the winner’s concert later that night.”
During the five-day tour in September, Zarling performed for around 3,500 K-12 students at 16 different schools and at three formal concerts throughout Washington. He was accompanied by another soloist winner, a vocalist from Los Angeles who prepared her own repertoire, along with her collaborative pianist. They also had a live radio performance broadcasted by KING-FM in downtown Seattle.
Zarling said although the music tour was his first one and he had an exhausting few days travelling over 900 miles to perform at schools and concerts, the experience was amazing.
“Performing for the elementary students was my favorite part of the tour,” Zarling said. “Their mouths would drop when Lesley (the vocalist) started singing her opera pieces and some would cover their ears when she sang a high-pitched note. I was told that many kids would try to play piano in the air while I performed.”
Zarling currently lives in Billings, where he is finishing clinical rotations and his fourth and final year through UM’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy.