Artist of the Week: Ben Tufte

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Artist of the Week: Ben Tufte

By Oakley Burt

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Pianist, bassist, composer and eventual conductor — these are just a few words to describe Ben Tufte.

Tufte, a junior in the School of Music at the University of Utah, has been studying music since he was 4 years old. Tufte was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and grew up in Cedar City, Utah. As a child, Tufte was unable to speak until his pediatrician had recommended his parents sign him up for music lessons to help.

“I have a sort of mental disability called Broca’s aphasia. It makes it very difficult to speak. I didn’t speak until I started taking piano lessons and it helped me greatly,” Tufte said. It was after the first lesson when Tufte knew he was going to continue playing piano. “My piano teacher, Mrs. Anderson, called my parents and said something along the lines of ‘this kid is special.'”

Tufte continued with piano lessons and began playing the bass at 9 years old. Tufte said, “I wanted to play an instrument that was unusual and no one else played.” Tufte’s love and appreciation for music skyrocketed in eighth grade when he began to play in the school orchestra. “Early on, it became apparent that I was kind of on another level from the other middle school players. I was a section head — there were about five of us who were. We were the ones who actually cared about what we were doing.” From then on, Tufte knew he was going to be a musician for the rest of his life. 

Tufte also began to get recognition for his talents when he was offered his first gig. “When I was in eighth grade, I got an offer from one of my dad’s friends that played racquetball with a conducting professor who was conducting ‘Chicago.’ He needed a qualified bass player and he offered it to me. So that was my first high profile gig.” Tufte’s success didn’t stop there. A few months later, he received another offer from a professor for a musical at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Tufte said, “That was my first professional gig and was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, especially at that age.” 

Every musician (and artist for that matter) hits a low point in their career, and Tufte experienced his in high school. “I made a lot of errors and enemies. I benefitted from those losses, but I would say that I was a better player in middle school than I was in my senior year of high school.” Learning from those mistakes and losses, Tufte said, “Over the past two years, I’ve been trying to reinvent myself and I hope to do better.” 

Reinvention often goes hand-in-hand with a fresh start in a new place. Tufte faced the hard decision of where to attend college after high school, but ultimately settled on the U. Feeling the way most high school students do, Tufte said, “I didn’t quite know what I wanted. I didn’t quite know what I was looking for in a music school. So I just wanted to audition to a decent university that I knew had a large program in the area.” Tufte believes that decision paid off and he lucked out with the professors he’s had the opportunity to learn from, specifically assistant professor Viktor Valkav. “He’s a very wise man, a great pianist, a good teacher and really funny. I’ve met few pianists that are as good and knowledgeable as he is. I got very lucky in that sense. He studied with the legendary Dr. John Parker, the pianist.” 

Tufte is also able to progress his composing talents beginning this semester. Tufte said, “You’re not allowed to start composition lessons until you’re a junior, so this is my first semester being able to compose here at the U.” Tufte is currently working on several composition projects, the first is a chamber piece featuring piano, flute, violin and clarinet instrumentation. He hopes to debut it in early November or December. Tufte’s second piece is a piano sonata he plans on finishing this academic year so it can be performed during his recitals next year. 

Looking to the future, Tufte has ambitious goals and hopeful plans. Tufte has considered continuing his education to get a Ph.D. in either music theory or conducting and a Doctorate in piano performance from Julliard. Tufte also has hopes of becoming a professional pianist. Tufte is keeping his options open and is enjoying his undergrad for now. Tufte said, “Well I’m not certain I’m even going to get my Ph.D. immediately after undergrad. Initially, I’d like to be a professional pianist for the world. I’ll have opportunities to join the world stage in the next few years, once competitions roll around again.” Tufte hopes to win one of those competitions now that he’s old enough and has the repertoire requirements to compete. 

But, for now, Tufte is simply learning to enjoy the music and where it takes him.

 

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