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Billings phenom among best young pianists in world

Recently won $25,000 Runnicles competition
Tanner Jorden piano
Posted at 12:11 PM, Aug 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-15 14:11:56-04

BILLINGS — Tanner Jorden first started playing piano for one simple reason: all of his siblings had.

“At first, it wasn’t really the music as much as the piano - I just was really interested in an instrument," the now 18-year-old said. "But when I was 12 or 13, I fell in love with classical music especially and what it does for people.”

In a time where the term is thrown around a bit too much, there’s no question Jorden is a phenom.

“Tanner is one of the best I’ve ever taught," said Dorothea Cromley, "and I hate to say that because some of my really fine students are going to hear that. They teach in college. They’ve gone on to have wonderful music careers, but Tanner is definitely exceptional.”

Tanner Jorden Dorothea Cromley
Billings pianist Tanner Jorden (left) works with teacher Dorothea Cromley at Cromley's home.

As the Professor of Piano at MSU-Billings for years, Cromley was used to college-age students. But when colleague Leslie Jorden asked Dorothea to consider taking on her 13-year-old grandson, it only took one meeting.

“After I heard Tanner play, not only was Leslie my friend and I wanted to do it for her, but I also wanted to do it for me because it was such a pleasure to hear such a wonderful artist," Cromley said. "I would tell him even when he was in his young teens that someday I’d hear him play in one of the big concert halls in Europe because he had it all.”

He’s already played in some of the biggest in America, including Carnegie Hall after winning the International American Protege Concerto competition in 2018. Last month, the stakes were even higher. Jorden was named one of three finalists across all instruments that would compete in person at the 4th annual Runnicles Music Competition in Jackson, Wyoming. First prize? A $25,000 scholarship. Anybody in the world would be nervous.

“What mostly got my adrenaline going was sitting backstage while the other pianist was performing because he was amazing, and I thought, ‘There’s no chance,'" the recent Billings Senior graduate said.

But he isn’t just anybody.

"I wouldn’t say my nerves get to me in a bad way. They just make me really excited and really hopeful about a performance.”

An emotion he puts on full display.

“I think my strength is being able to project to the audience the character of the music, and the expression of it," Jorden said.

“Yo-Yo Ma said when he was starting out on the cello, he knew he didn’t have half the technique that some of the other cellists had," Cromley added, "but what he had was heart and soul, and he knew how to speak through his music, and that’s Tanner.”

The Runnicles judges agreed, awarding Jorden the $25,000 grand prize. The following weekend may have been even more impressive. Jorden finished 2nd in the prestigious William Knabe International Piano competition, cementing his status as one of the best rising stars in the world. You can watch his full finals performance below:

Jorden will start his freshman year at BYU later this month, majoring in piano performance - all he’s wanted to do since he first sat down at the bench.

“I hope to be doing a lot of performing, because I think that’s what brings the most purpose to music is sharing it with other people," Jorden said.

“(He can do) anything he chooses to do," said Cromley, "and I think that he chooses to be a concert pianist, and I think that’s exactly what he will be.”

Tanner Jorden
Billings pianist Tanner Jorden says his ability to express music to the audience is his greatest strength.