High Plains Christmas

Composer, solo pianist and Chester native Philip Aaberg will bring his unique musical style to Choteau on Dec. 14 in a benefit concert at 7 p.m. in the Choteau High School auditorium.

Composer and award-winning solo pianist Philip Aaberg will bring his unique musical style to Choteau on Dec. 14 in a benefit concert at 7 p.m. in the Choteau High School auditorium.

“I am enjoying what I do,” he said in an interview last week while describing his latest album, “Versatile,” and projects he is working on since moving to Helena from Chester with his wife, Patty, and son, Jake, 16, who now is a member of the Great Divide Ski Team based there. Philip debuted “Versatile” recently at the civic center in Helena.

“I always knew I was going to be a musician. I believe you are lucky to do what you love. Do what you love and the rest will come,” Aaberg said.

The Aabergs operate Sweetgrass Music, www.sweetgrassmusic.com, where are sold Philip’s compositions that evoke the spaciousness and beauty of the Western landscape. He is a Harvard graduate, courtesy of a Leonard Bernstein Scholarship, and has performed with the Boston Pops, Peter Gabriel, Elvin Bishop and at the Marlboro Chamber Music Festival.

A Chester native, he found his way back to Montana in 1997 when he became an artist in residence at the Liberty Village Art Center and has since done many workshops with children and adults around the state.

In Choteau on Dec. 14, Philip will perform selections from his recordings, “Live from Montana,” “Christmas,” “High Plains Christmas,” “From the Ground Up” and “Versatile.”

It will be his second recent visit to Choteau. He also performed a benefit concert in December 2014 for the Opportunities for All Scholarship fund. “Every show is different. I never do the same show twice,” he said, noting that he will perform on Dec. 7 in Lewistown before coming to Choteau on the 14th.

Aaberg writes most of the music he performs and he has developed a relationship with the Montana landscape and the feelings it inspires in his compositions. He is working on another album and he is writing an opera about the “Heart of the Great Divide.”

“It’s music of place, taking in the landscape and the beauty of the high plains,” he said about his music.

Besides many traditional holiday selections, he may include songs from his album, “High Plains Christmas,” such as “Sleighed,” (his version of “Jingle Bells”), and songs from “Versatile,” including, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” and “This Whole World.” He still finds ways to disguise a festive embellishment to an otherwise conventional tune, such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

“Phil can make the piano talk to you about music, and hear new sounds that only Phil can generate from his touch,” said Choteau musician Rich Clough, who will introduce Aaberg, on behalf of the local nonprofit organization, Opportunities for All Scholarship Inc. “His feel for music is phenomenal, the way he takes a tune and works his magic with it. He is one of my favorite performers. Anyone would enjoy the type of music he performs.”

OFAS provides scholarships to Teton County residents wanting to participate in enrichment programs but who have limited funds to do so. All proceeds from the concert will go to providing scholarships. Aaberg will also perform for a Choteau grades 5-12 assembly during the last period on the day of the concert.

Aaberg is bringing an enrichment event to the community as a whole where normally the OFAS board simply grants scholarships to individuals who request help for a particular activity, such as music lessons, pool passes, preschool or special college classes or summer workshops.

A free-will donation is suggested at the door. The Dec. 14 concert at the CHS auditorium will include an intermission with coffee, punch and cookies and an opportunity for the audience to purchase Aaberg’s albums on compact discs.

Acantha reporter