Arts & Entertainment

Local Compositions for a National Stage

Acclaimed composer Lance Bendiksen is scoring films and scouting talent in the Flathead Valley

When Emmy Award-winning composer Lance Bendiksen first started in the music business 45 years ago, he worked in a studio the size of an average house, sometimes with a full orchestra present, requiring him to be in cities like Los Angeles and Denver.

Now, he works in a small room in his Kalispell residence, with only a computer and keyboard, hundreds of miles away from the hustle and bustle of big cities.

As technology advances, Bendiksen is able to compose music remotely from his home, which triggered his move to the Flathead Valley two years ago. He flies to places like California and Washington D.C. to record or perform a few times each year but spends most his time in the valley.

“I work as much as I can here in Montana,” Bendiksen said.

In September, Bendiksen performed a film score for “A Towering Task,” a film about the Peace Corps featuring Annette Bening, at the sold-out Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. He brought along Flathead violinist Wai Mizutani and his protégé, 13-year-old Lauren Welch, as well as singer-songwriter Halladay Quist, to perform with him.

Bendiksen says he’s found a lot of local talent in the valley, usually through word of mouth or, in Mizutani’s case, at church. Bendiksen and his wife, Deborah, were attending Sunday Mass at Saint John Paul II Catholic Church in Bigfork when they first heard Mizutani play the violin.

“His violin sound produced so much emotion with each note that Deb and I both got goose bumps on our arms,” Bendiksen said.

Originally from China, Mizutani was the youngest first violinist in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra history at age 14. He also attended the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City before moving to the Flathead.

The intimate music community of the valley has made searching for talent easier than Bendiksen expected. He discovered Quist shortly after he arrived. Beniksen compares her voice to pop star Sarah McLachlan, and he’s bringing her to record an EP at the renowned Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama this winter.

As Bendiksen becomes acquainted with the Flathead’s local talent, he’s also discovering nationally known figures who, like him, migrated to the area from bigger cities. He met Bruce Springsteen’s sound engineer and Whitefish resident, Toby Scott, at a party in the valley, and later collaborated with him on “A Towering Task.”

Bendiksen was afraid the Flathead would be vacant of musicians when he first moved here two years ago, but he quickly realized he didn’t need to worry.

“All of a sudden I found a Chinese virtuoso and a world-class engineer right in my backyard,” Bendiksen said.

Bendiksen will continue working with Mizutani, Welch and Scott for a new symphony called “Sounds of the Big Sky.” He began composing the film score in March and says he will likely finish it within a year and perform it in the spring.

The music score is for a film produced by Birds Eye of Big Sky, a drone-operated film company. “Sounds of the Big Sky” will feature a cameo appearance from renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the score will be recorded at Skywalker Ranch in California.

For more information, visit bendiksenproductions.com.

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.