A Helena High student musician was chosen to perform with a select group of other students in Portland, Ore., next month under the direction of the Seattle Symphony conductor. 

Senior Taylor Davison, who plays viola and violin, was one of two students in Helena selected to the National Association for Music Education, Northwest Division’s conference in Portland, which will be held from Feb. 14 to 17.

“She is a very hard worker,” said Beth Mazanec, who has been Davison’s private music teacher for 10 years. “I’m thrilled with her success. I think she really deserves it.”

Connor McSweeney, a senior at Capital High, was also selected to be a part of the conference and will be performing with the All-Northwest choir.

More than 5,200 students from Montana, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming auditioned for the biennial conference but only a few hundred were accepted.

At All-Northwest, Davison will practice and perform “professional grade music” — including the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Fifth Symphony” — under the direction of Gerard Schwartz, the conductor emeritus of the Seattle Symphony.

“It’s pretty advanced stuff,” Davison said of the music.

Although she plays violin, her instrument of choice is the viola, she explained, taking one of the instruments from a case in the orchestra storage room in Helena High Wednesday afternoon.

“Not many people actually know what it is,” Davison said, as she held the viola and explained the differences between it, a violin and a cello.

The cello and the viola share the same tuning — C, G, D and A — but the viola, which looks like an over-sized violin, is an octave higher.

“It’s small like a violin so you can hold it up,” Davison said. “It’s a really unique instrument.”

Her fingers danced over the strings with precision as she played a fast song called “Spinning Wheel” by N. Rubinstein.

She says she tends to like faster songs because they are more fun to play.

“But classical or slower pieces can be really beautiful too,” she said. “Sometimes I like to think of songs I’ve heard on the radio or songs from a favorite band and figure them out on the viola.”

Davison started learning to play an instrument at age 8.

“It was kind of a battle to get me started at first because it requires a lot of motivation and focus — I was in third grade.”

Davison says her parents, Steve and Sharee Davison, who own Action Print in Helena, have been a key part in her success as a musician.

“They made me practice an hour a day until I was old enough to practice by myself without them telling me to,” Davison said. “So that — just having to practice an hour a day — it really advances you because too many people don’t actually practice.”

Mazanec, who has been teaching Davison since she was 8 years old, has also been a positive influence.

“She’s been a like a second mother to me all these years,” Davison said of her teacher.

In addition to excelling in music, Davison has earned success academically.

She has a 3.8 GPA and was recently accepted into the Davidson Honors College at the University of Montana.

“I’m going to be a Classics major — that’s ancient Greek and Roman everything,” she said. “It’s pretty fun.”

She is also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music and a minor in accounting.

“It has smaller classes,” she said of the honors college. “So it’s more intimate, and you’re able to learn more.

“It’s more difficult, apparently,” she added with a laugh.

Which is a good thing for her, she explained:

“I have to have a challenge, or it’s not fun at all,” she said. “If I have an easy class, I get so bored. I mean, I still get an A, but it’s really boring. I like getting good grades. It’s just cool to know that you can do it and just get them because you can.”

Davison says she has toyed with the idea of becoming a studio musician after college.

“But, honestly, I can’t say where I’m going to be after college,” she said. “I have four year and then grad school and then – who knows where I’ll be by then?”

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