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Rising Artists: Self-taught violist one of Billings' most exciting young musicians

Neveah Killsnight
Posted at 12:00 PM, Mar 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-26 14:00:03-04

BILLINGS — She's not a household name - yet - but the Billings music community has been talking about Neveah Killsnight for years.

"I was adjudicating a middle school music festival," Lauren Carr recalled, "and her teacher said, ‘You’ve got to watch this one, it’s nuts. She taught herself all of this.’”

You could use the word prodigy to describe Killsnight - she clearly has natural ability - but don’t discount just how hard she’s worked to get here.

"In 5th grade, it was time to pick out an instrument," Killsnight said. "I remember listening to viola, and I loved the deep, rich tone that it had."

Neveah Killsnight
Billings Senior violist Neveah Killsnight recently auditioned for the prestigious Interlochen School for the Arts.

But the viola didn’t stick at first.

"At the end of 5th grade, I wanted to quit," she admitted. "But I had to return my rental and didn’t have a viola the whole summer, and it made me realize how much I really enjoyed playing."

So by the start of 6th grade, she was all in.

"I started practicing a lot more, almost every night," she said. "I started watching videos on YouTube to teach myself. Watching other people inspired me to play better."

"At the time, she was playing on a viola (she got) from Amazon," Carr said. "So I said, ‘Get her a really good instrument and get her a teacher - she’s going places.’”

Carr turned out to be that teacher, though she says she’s been more of a shepherd, getting Killsnight to as many of those places as possible. Maybe the most impressive? Becoming a regular with the Billings Symphony starting her junior year at Billings Senior High School.

"I was so nervous," Killsnight said. "But it was also amazing. When I was in middle school, I used to watch the Billings Symphony all the time, and I remember watching the principal violist, and being able to sit in the same section as her is amazing."

Killsnight has clearly made an impression: she's front-and-center on Page 2 of the 2023-24 Billings Symphony brochure.

Neveah Killsnight symphony
Neveah Killsnight (top) earned a spot as a violist for the Billings Symphony during her junior year in high school.

Her future is bright. She recently applied to the prestigious Interlochen School for the Arts, and also unveiled a new career thought.

"I was thinking of going into education for music," she said.

The news almost brought Carr to tears.

"The joy and the excitement that she’s experienced playing the viola, she wants to give that to other people," Carr said. "And that's just awesome."

And Killsnight would like to focus specifically on people with her Native American heritage.

"Before I started playing the viola, I had never really heard of it," she said. "I know there’s a lot of younger kids in my reservation who don’t really know a lot about music. I want to show them they can do it, and that it’s an option for them."

And who wouldn’t want to listen to her?

Neveah Killsnight
Neveah Killsnight wants to educate Native American children about orchestral music.