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Tuba solo earns student scholarship in Glenn Miller Festival competition

July 15, 2013
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Nicholas Liebl and Dr. Jerry Young, UW-Eau Claire professor of music.

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Nicholas Liebl

EAU CLAIRE — When he was in sixth grade, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire sophomore Nicholas Liebl decided he wanted to play the tuba. He recalled it was a tall order — because the instrument was bigger than he was.

"I played a huge white sousaphone," Liebl said. "I had to sit on about four or five large textbooks just to reach the instrument."

Liebl, a music major from Owatonna, Minn., grew, and so did his talent as a musician. Those years of practice paid off when he was named one of three recipients of an instrumental scholarship during the 38th annual Glenn Miller Festival, held June 13-16 in Clarinda, Iowa. Liebl, one of 10 finalists, placed third with his tuba solo, earning him a $1,000 scholarship from the Glenn Miller Birthplace Society.

Liebl said it was his mother and a missed deadline that led him to enter the festival competition.

"I was preparing for the Leonard Falcone Young Artist Tuba division preliminaries and cut my recording too late, so I couldn't enter," Liebl said. "A day or two later my mom sent me a link to the Glenn Miller Scholarship website. I had a couple recordings lying around so I threw them into an envelope and sent it off. A couple months later I was surprised by an email telling me I had become a finalist."

Dr. Jerry Young, professor emeritus of music, said while it is unusual for a person at Liebl's stage of development to place in a national event such as the Glenn Miller Festival, Liebl's natural ability and hard work paid off.

"He often can be found at the Haas Fine Arts Center at 6 a.m. to start his practice day," Young said. "His dedication to his professional goals and his academic work make his success at a competition such as this one no surprise at all to me."

Liebl credits more than hard work for his success. He said Young has made a difference in both his tuba playing and his life.

"The sole reason I came to UW-Eau Claire was to have the privilege and honor of studying with Dr. Young," said Liebl. "Working with him is incredible. He is the most genuine person I have ever met, and I have learned just as much about life in general as I have about tuba."

Liebl was not the only Blugold performing at the festival. Following Liebl's performance, the Glenn Miller Orchestra took the stage. That big band includes Mike Malone, a UW-Eau Claire senior who was recently selected as the orchestra's new drummer. Young said it is special to see students have this kind of success, especially at an event like the Glenn Miller Festival.

"I'm sure that Glenn Miller, a fabulous musician who apparently cared for young people and the future of music, would be thrilled to see people of the quality of Mike Malone and Nick Liebl helped forward in their career aspirations by his legacy," Young said. "It is always exciting for all of us in the department of music and theatre arts to see our students enjoy success on a national stage. These kinds of things have consistently demonstrated the high standards that we espouse and the level of work put forth by both our students and faculty."

Liebl called the scholarship an amazing reward for all his hard work.

"Aside from the cash award, placing at the competition really means many things for me," Liebl said. "It's proof that the endless hours, early mornings and late nights of practice really do pay off."

When he is not practicing his tuba, Liebl can be found playing his guitar and composing classical music. One of his compositions made its public debut when he was in high school.

"For my band director's senior class of 2012 present, I wrote him a band piece," Liebl said. "The band and I rehearsed it behind his back early in the mornings before school and we surprised him with it at the concert."

The Owatonna High School band director is Peter Guenther, a 1992 music education graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

Winning a scholarship at the Glenn Miller Festival, an event celebrating America's musical past, means a more promising future for Liebl.

"In the future I want to keep pursuing music at the highest level," Liebl said. "After meeting so many new and different people and being exposed to so much opportunity, I know I want to continue as a music major and spread my passion for music anywhere I can."

Right now, where that future takes Liebl is unknown, but he does know he'll have his tuba with him.

"Right now, I kind of enjoy the sense of adventure and the mystery of not knowing exactly what the next chapter of my life will be," Liebl said. "One thing is certain however: There will be plenty of 'oompah-oompah.'"

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