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'Pianissimo!'

The  annual "Pianissimo!" concert at the University of Montana School of Music features multiple pianos and pianists in different combinations.

The Internet wouldn't seem to have changed Pianissimo!, the annual concert at the University of Montana School of Music. It's a celebration of the piano, an instrument whose repertoire and construction were perfected long before computers had been invented.

Yet it has subtly changed the way piano professor Christopher Hahn designs the program, which is meant to be a novelty-studded showstopper to show off the talents of students, alumni, faculty and community members.

The concert features them in novel combinations: two players at one piano, two players at two pianos, and so on, which requires him to find arrangements. That has gotten easier.

"The Internet anymore, right? There's so many talented people out there in the world making fabulous arrangements," he said.

He can find videos and audio of these arrangements, but not necessarily any written music. So he reached out to two former students: Michael Zarling and Tyler Harrison, to check out the YouTube videos and write a score. 

Because there's a movie theme this year, Zarling was tasked with "The Avengers," and an "Inception" suite. Harrison re-interpreted a full-band arrangement of Danny Elfman's film music, including "Beetlejuice," "Spider-Man," "Tales from the Crypt," "Edward Scissorhands" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," for five pianos.

On a program of movie music, it shouldn't be surprising to see Hans Zimmer's name more than once. Besides the "Inception" music, they're using his "Pirates of the Caribbean" theme. The arrangement Hahn found, however, was for piano and cello. "The piano is nothing if not versatile," he said, so he'll have multiple electronic pianos with orchestral effects backing an acoustic keyboard.

Elsewhere during the concert, you can expect some digital projections and other bells and whistles as the 25-some pianists do their thing.

In contrast to the seriousness of some recitals, the concert is supposed to be lighthearted. (The exclamation point in the title is an inside joke — "pianissimo" is a term for playing quietly.) The audience is "hungry," "gracious" and have "come to expect a certain level" of entertainment, he said.

The show, now in its 12th year, is a fundraiser for the UM Keyboard Society. It can pull in around $10,000, which can go toward travel costs for students to get to competitions and concerts.

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