Montana State music student Jacob Kittleson advances to national competition

Friday Mar. 17th, 2023

BOZEMAN — Montana State University music student Jacob Kittleson won the young artist brass category at the Music Teachers National Association Northwest Divisional Young Artist Performance Competition and will advance to the national competition March 25–29 in Reno, Nevada.

“It's very exciting to get the chance to perform,” said Kittleson, who is from Great Falls. “It’s just an incredible opportunity because they bring in these amazing judges, and the feedback we're able to get from an educational standpoint is so helpful.”  

Kittleson, a tuba player, beat state winners from Washington, Wyoming and Idaho in the regional competition and will now play against students from across the U.S.  

“It’s incredible to see Jake perform at such a high level, competing against undergraduate and graduate students at a national level,” said Jason Bolte, director of the MSU School of Music in the College of Arts and Architecture. “Competing at the MTNA National Competition is a testament to his work ethic, musicianship and the high-quality instruction he has received from our music faculty.”  

Kittleson, a senior majoring in music, said he first got interested in playing tuba in elementary school. 

“It was the largest and shiniest object in the (band) room,” Kittleson said, explaining that he was too small to play the tuba at first, so he played the euphonium until sixth grade. “(The tuba) has such a dark, warm sound that just envelops the room. I've pretty much stuck with it ever since.” 

Kittleson is no stranger to this national competition. In 2021, he competed virtually in the young artist brass category, along with MSU student violinist Cade Fiddaman, who competed in the young artist strings division. 

“I'm excited to finally do (the competition) in person, especially now that I’ve had a couple more years to develop my skills,” Kittleson said. The competition is being held in conjunction with the MTNA conference, and he hopes to attend performances and seminars as well.  

“There are going to be some great players to listen to, so I'm looking forward to that too,” he said. 

MSU associate professor Jeannie Little said Kittleson’s passion for the tuba has deepened through the years and makes him a wonderful musician. 

“Jake is immensely gifted,” she said. “During this upcoming competition, he’s the only tuba in a field of trumpets, horns and euphoniums. The tuba is a big and sometimes very unwieldy instrument. Jake makes it sing.”  

She said Kittleson has been heavily involved with many musical groups on MSU’s campus, including the Spirit of the West marching band and the Montanans choir.  

“He will play in every and any ensemble if you let him,” Little said, noting that Kittleson not only persevered but excelled during remote and socially distanced lessons for his first two years at MSU. “He's so excited and so curious about all things music, and that translates to learning new and difficult pieces.”  

At the competition, Kittleson will play a capriccio by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. The piece is designed for an unaccompanied tuba and is “very contemporary,” he said, adding that the piece’s tone is interesting because it has no time signature, a musical element that keeps a song on the proper beat.   

“It offers a lot of freedom to the performer,” he said. “One of the things I like most about it is how it hides in dance figures. There's one part where it's a waltz, but then it leaves off a beat and a dancer will be stumbling – it's always very sneaky with it.” 

Kittleson will graduate this spring and pursue a master’s degree of musical arts in tuba performance from Arizona State University. He credits his success to his teachers and opportunities at MSU. 

“MSU has just provided me so many opportunities for places to perform, and the faculty has just been amazing and supportive,” he said. “They've taught me so much, especially Dr. Little.”