As the lights dim in Griffin Concert Hall within the University Center for the Arts, doors behind the orchestra open, revealing the soloist. The crowd beats its hands in unison, welcoming percussionist Ben Justis on stage for the annual Concerto Competition with Colorado State University’s Sinfonia Orchestra Tuesday.
Justis graduated from CSU in Dec. 2013 with an undergraduate degree in music education. Since completion of his undergraduate degree, he has been actively pursuing his masters in percussion performance, and he acts as a graduate teaching assistant as well as a student in the composition program.
His composed work has been played by the Grandview High School Pep Band, Skyline High School Marching Band, CSU Drumline and CSU Concert Band.
“As much as I love performing, I want to be a composer because my heart is into it,” Justis said.
His pieces for the CSU marching band are performed during halftime shows. While Justis is a percussionist performance masters student, he also composes for other orchestral parts, such as the woodwind or string sections. City Museum, a composition inspired by his hometown, St. Louis, Missouri, can be found on Tapspace.
As Justis took his instruments in hand Tuesday to play the first movement of the concerto by Emmanuel Séjourné, his mallets hit the vibraphone with a resonating sound as he performed along with the accompaniment orchestra.
“When I first heard the piece played by a graduate student at CSU, I thought it was gorgeous,” Justis said. “It has a lot of crowd appeal.”
Crowd appeal emanates through Justis as a performer, according to Eric Hollenbeck, an associate professor of music who has been Justis’ primary instructor for the five years of his studies at CSU.
“Ben plays with flamboyant gestures that draw you in, and he has a large stage presence for a soloist,” Hollenbeck said.
Justis’ flamboyant stage presence is not something he can call his own. With influence from instructors such as Hollenbeck over the years, Justis has intentionally mimicked them.
“My goal is to look and sound like (my instructors) when I perform a piece,” Justis said.
As a member of the National Music Honors Society, Pi Kappa Lambda, Justis has a rising reputation that progressed with Tuesday’s performance.
Professor of music and conductor Wes Kenney announced Justis as the victor Tuesday.
“His extraordinary consistency on stage worked well with the flexibility of the orchestra,” Kenny said.
Justis took a step forward and acknowledged the crowd’s standing ovation with an elegant bow.
“I am blessed,” Justis said. “I definitely considered the performance a highlight of my career.”
Collegian Reporter Zane Watson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zanerwatson.