MSU to award honorary doctorate to composer, musician Philip Aaberg at December commencement
Thursday Dec. 5th, 2013
Philip Aaberg, who rose from Montana Hi-Line roots to international prominence as a keyboardist, composer and musician with some of the world’s most iconic bands, will receive an honorary doctorate from Montana State University at the university’s winter commencement, set Dec. 14.
“Montana State is privileged to honor Philip Aaberg, who has launched a new Montana music legacy that connects a global audience to the sweeping landscape of the West,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “Phil rarely refuses an opportunity to give back to his native state with his time and his talent, and he is eminently deserving of this recognition.”
“A Montana native with an enduring love for Montana and her people, Phil has constantly offered himself as a mentor, teacher, performer, adjudicator and arts advocate while using his celebrity status to help with numerous fundraising events for myriad causes and organizations,” said Eric Funk, MSU music professor who and host of the Emmy-winning “11th & Grant with Eric Funk,” a Montana PBS show on which Aaberg has appeared on several occasions. Funk and Aaberg since both were talented young musicians growing up in neighboring towns on Montana’s Hi-Line.
Born in Havre, Aaberg was raised in nearby Chester. He exhibited an early genius for music and he began taking piano lessons at age 4. By the time he was 15, he traveled on the train 12 hours one-way every two weeks from Chester to Spokane, Wash., so that he could study with Margaret Saunders Ott, a Juilliard-trained pianist and teacher who was chair of the piano department at Whitworth College.
Aaberg has exhibited eclectic musical taste from his early years. Along with the piano, Aaberg played drums and organ in the garage rock band that he and his brother put together in high school, and he played baritone and tuba for the Chester high school band. He also played with area symphony orchestras while he was still in high school, including orchestras in Spokane, Bozeman and Billings. His abilities earned him a Leonard Bernstein Scholarship at Harvard University where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music.
After post-baccalaureate study with Beethoven specialist and pianist Kenneth Drake, Aaberg moved to California to make pop and rock records. He first appeared on the national scene as keyboardist with The Elvin Bishop Band. He toured with Peter Gabriel, and recorded with the Doobie Brothers, Kenny Rogers and Vince Gill. He began composing his own music seriously in 1985. Shortly after he signed with Windham Hill Records, he released the influential and critically-applauded solo album, ”High Plains,” which garnered him international acclaim. His album “Live from Montana” in 2000 earned him his first Grammy nomination.
Aaberg has played with the Boston Pops, participated in the Marlboro Chamber Music Festival, premiered contemporary compositions with the Paul Dresher Ensemble, and performed on more than 200 albums and on PBS’ “All-American Jazz,” which also earned him an Emmy nomination. Another Emmy nomination followed in 2008 for his soundtrack for “Class C: The Only Game in Town” produced by Montana PBS.
Aaberg and his wife Patty formed the Sweetgrass Music label in 2000, and moved back to Chester with their son, Jake, in 2002. They operate the Great Northern Bed and Breakfast, the Westland Suite, and The Bin recording studio in Chester.
The Aabergs founded Arts Without Boundaries, a statewide nonprofit that provides music and arts lessons and deepens experiences in the arts for children in Montana communities. Aaberg is the recipient of a Governor’s Award for the Arts and a Montana Arts Council Innovator Award. He also serves on the Ucross Foundation selection committee, the Montana Tourism Advisory Council, and the District 4 Human Resources Development Council. Aaberg’s monthly radio program, “Of the West: Creativity & Sense of Place,” can be heard across Montana on Yellowstone Public Radio and www.ofthewest.net