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Missouri S&T Music Professor Has Composition Recorded And Played Around The World

Kyle Wernke conducts the Missouri S&T Orchestra.
John Francis
Kyle Wernke conducts the Missouri S&T Orchestra.

ROLLA — Kyle Wernke is an up-and-coming composer, but he doesn’t teach at a high-profile music school. 

There are no music majors in his orchestra, and the students spend more time on equations than they do on scales. Wernke teaches at Missouri University of Science and Technology, a school known much more for engineering than for performing arts.

Wernke’s “Burst” will be played by the Tampa Bay Symphony at four concerts this month. In February, it will be performed by Musiques En Seine Orchestra in Paris. It’s also available on Ablaze Records, recorded by the Brno Philharmonic in the Czech Republic.

He wrote the piece for a composition competition. Wernke, 30, said he started writing without any idea of what to call it. 

“I was listening to the piece one day, listening back, fixing things, and it occurred to me that really this is just a bunch of little bursts of activity that are happening over and over again,'' Wernke said. “And I thought a quick, one word title like ‘Burst’ was probably a good way to get someone’s attention.”An excerpt of "Burst" by Kyle Wernke, performed by the Brno Philharmonic, conducted by Mikel Toms.

It didn’t win that competition. But it did catch the attention of a few conductors, and that led to the piece being performed and recorded.

Wernke believes being in Rolla for the past few years has helped him do his best work.

“I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that I live in a smaller place like Rolla and I’ve been able to accomplish so much, because there’s not so much pulling at you from every direction,” Wernke said.

Listen to St. Louis Public Radio's Jonathan Ahl's story on "Burst"

Wernke teaches music classes at S&T and leads the orchestra and the jazz band. He said leading ensembles made up of science and engineering majors has been rewarding. 

“Since they play purely for fun, their commitment is to the joy of the music,” Wernke said.

Sara McCauley, a chemistry major and violin player in the S&T Orchestra, said Wernke’s composer mind is on display in every rehearsal.

“You can definitely tell that he is thinking about the bigger picture of something, which I think is something definitely that composers tend to do. Whereas we as musicians look at it as a note-by-note basis,” McCauley said.

McCauley also said that approach appeals to science-minded students, who often break things down in the lab to see how they fit into a bigger picture.

Wernke is excited about his future in Rolla. He and his wife bought a house and don’t plan to leave any time soon. 

“I’m really proud that these conductors and these competitions have looked at the music for what it is, as opposed to who I am and what I’ve done or where I come from,” Wernke said. “And that’s encouraging to me as a career moving forward.”

Wernke said S&T supports him in his efforts. The school helped pay for the recording of his piece by the Brno Philharmonic. 

“I don’t teach aerospace engineering, but I think that it shows that S&T realizes that the music department is important, if only because it gives our students an outlet,” Wernke said.

Next up for Wernke is the premiere of his piano concerto with the S&T orchestra in the spring, and then he is collaborating with a colleague to write a cantata based on the life of Leonardo da Vinci.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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Missouri S&T Music Professor Has Composition Recorded And Played Around The World

Copyright 2019 St. Louis Public Radio

Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. His duties also include covering central and southern Missouri for Harvest Public Media. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.