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Increasingly, Tanner Jorden's life became about the piano.

The youngest of four brothers and sisters with their own talents, he said that he wanted to find something to be great at. He was introduced to the instrument through them.

"I always wanted to, since I saw my siblings play," said Jorden.

He started at 7 years old and picked it up quickly. It wasn't long before he was able to zone in on reading and writing music. His mother, Kari Jorden, said the progress was a bit of a surprise.

"One morning I came out, and he was kneeling at the piano bench," Kari Jorden said. "And he was writing the five lines."

The lines made up a staff to write music. She said he was writing out the chorus to "Yankee Doodle."

Now 14 years old, Jorden has entered competitions, taken home some prize money and will accompany various symphony orchestras in Montana later this year.

In the meantime, he's practicing daily and is enrolled in classes at Montana State University Billings through its University Connections program. He takes courses in the music department late in the day.

"I have lessons and one where I take a performance class," he said.

Dorthea Cromley, chair of the MSUB music program, started teaching Jorden nearly two years ago. She said she didn't usually teach outside full-time college students. Jorden's grandmother, who was an MSUB faculty member, urged Cromley to listen to the young pianist.

After hearing Jorden, she was convinced she should teach him. Early on, Jorden had a brash style of play.

"As his grandmother said, he loves to play fast and loud," Cromley said. 

Since then, she said he's come a long way and now plays far beyond his years. His performance at the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras Young Artist Competition in January caught the attention of some trained ears.

At the Bozeman competition, Jorden played the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor, a moving piece by the 19th-century composer Edvard Grieg.

“He’s really very good," Cromley said. "The head of the symphony was up at the MASO, and he came up to me and said, 'Oh my god, Dorthea.'”

Jorden placed first in the junior competition, taking home $450 and the opportunity to play with symphonies across the state. On Feb. 25, he will travel to accompany the Great Falls Symphony.

Jorden is a deft player. As Cromley remarked, his maturity is shown through control of the volume and speed of the music. His favorite selections are from the Romantic Era, which can be expressive, intricate works. And he can still play fast.

The day after competing in Bozeman, Jorden traveled to Washington for another event. He earned an honorable mention.

He said practice is the key, and he's made choices that afford him that time. Jorden asked to be home schooled so that he would have more time to practice, as well as attend the MSUB courses.

And while he was adept at sports, he opted to focus more on his playing. His mother said she'd never seen someone so passionate about a skill.

"We knew that when he chose music, that was a big choice," Kari Jorden said.

Jorden thinks he'll attend public high school next year, though he's still working out his schedule. He's already thinking about college, a career and one day buying a Steinway piano of his own.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.