Missouri S&T Music Professor Has Composition Recorded And Played Around The World | St. Louis Public Radio

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

Nov 14, 2019

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.”

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.

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

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org