BILLINGS — Melanie Irwin loves the clarinet - loves the way it sounds and makes her feel - which is what made last summer’s decision so hard.

"I have some heart issues," she said. "I have a little too fast of a heart rate, and it really affected me when I played the clarinet, so I decided to drop it.”

The intense breathing clarinet requires was making Irwin very sick.

"One time I had to go to the ER for like five hours because my heart rate wouldn’t slow down," she said.

Clarinet closeup


Melanie Irwin almost had to quit clarinet because the intense breathing required to play the instrument was aggravating her heart condition.

But shortly after deciding to quit, she got some other news that got her heart racing in a good way.

"I told her, 'I hate to rub salt in the wound, but you did make principal clarinet in All-State orchestra, which is given to the top audition in the state of Montana,'" said Billings West band teacher Steve Patton. "I told her congratulations and that she'd be missed, and she said, ‘Well, let’s figure something out.’"

"I re-enrolled the day before band started," Irwin said. "I got on some new meds, and they seem to be working pretty well, so I'm really enjoying it this year."

Melanie Irwin


Melanie Irwin, the No. 1 high school clarinet player in Montana, almost had to give up the instrument due to a heart condition.

Irwin has barely had to take any breaks during band class this semester. Good thing, because she’s got plenty else to do. Irwin is a Platinum student at Billings West, meaning she has one of the highest GPAs in some of the toughest courses. It also requires a 'Magnum Opus' project, which she decided to dedicate to her other talent.

"I always drew as a kid," said Irwin. "I loved animals. I would always go bird-watching and have my little manuals and draw the birds I’d see."

Now, she’s turned those drawings into greeting cards, which she’s selling on a website she’s created, Cards For Creation.

"Everybody will look at them and say, ‘Oh, you should sell this,’ but it just never seemed like a possibility," she said. "So for the Platinum Program, I thought it would be an idea I would be interested in and stick with.”

Her latest art project however is a bit bigger. Irwin and fellow Platinum member Jasmyn Zimmerman were chosen among dozens of submissions to design West’s MasterLube mural.

Melanie Irwin MasterLube mural


Melanie Irwin (left) and Jasmyn Zimmerman work on the Billings West High mural on the MasterLube at King Avenue and 24th Street West.

"It’s been me and (Jasmyn's) dream since 8th grade," Irwin said of winning the MasterLube contest. "We designed our design back in the summer, and it wasn’t due until a couple weeks ago."

The two immediately got to work, painting every detail high and low. The finished product is just one more thing to celebrate.

"It feels really good when people drive by, and you can see them looking. Or when people stop and talk to us," Irwin said. "Yesterday, the MasterLube people - like six of them - came out and just stared for a little bit and told us how good it looks. It makes us so proud to hear."

Heart-stopping, almost.

MasterLube West mural


Billings West seniors Melanie Irwin and Jasmyn Zimmerman completed the West High mural April 27 on the West End MasterLube at King Avenue and 24th Street West.

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