Alder graduate conducts his original composition

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Ryan Rennie conducts his bandmates in a performance of his original composition, “Escape!,” during Jonathan Alder High School’s commencement ceremonies on May 26.

(Posted May 30, 2019)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Ryan Rennie’s high school career ended on a high note. Literally.

Before turning the tassel on his cap, the Jonathan Alder senior took the podium to conduct his bandmates in a performance of his original composition, “Escape!” They played to students, family members and school staffers who had packed the high school gymnasium for commencement ceremonies on May 26. The response was massive applause.

“It is a remarkable thing, and I probably will not see this again in my career,” said Justin Hennig, Jonathan Alder band director, regarding Rennie’s accomplishments as a budding young composer.

It all started when Rennie took Hennig’s Advanced Placement music theory class as a junior. The class stoked Rennie’s interest in writing music, and he started composing over the summer.

“At the start of this school year, he came to me and said he wanted to do an independent study for music composition,” Hennig said.

Ryan Rennie, 2019 Jonathan Alder graduate

The two met daily during Hennig’s planning period. Originally, Hennig thought he would need to provide Rennie with a lot of guidance, but Rennie came in well prepared.

“I became more of a consultant, giving him tips on things like how the music should look on the page so that players know how to perform it,” Hennig said.

Over the course of the year, Rennie, who has played clarinet since fifth grade and served as one of the band’s student directors this year, cranked out more than 30 original compositions.

“He is insanely, insanely good at how quickly he writes and knows what he wants and gets it down on paper,” Hennig said.

One piece, in particular, stood out–a three-and-a-half-minute creation Hennig describes as “pretty intensive” with a “very bright and grand ending.” Rennie had written it with an orchestra in mind. Hennig asked him to rewrite it for band so that the high school band could perform it. A few days later, Rennie returned with the new version.

“It wasn’t a lot of work,” said the young composer. “Some of the parts stayed the same. Some shifted, like a lot of the violin parts went to the flutes and clarinets.”

Hennig left it to Rennie to teach his piece to his fellow students.

“What better opportunity for the rest of the kids than to work on a piece with the composer who composed it for them,” he said.

During rehearsals, watching and hearing his creation go from the page to performance, Rennie said he realized his editing was not done.

“There were certain abilities of instruments and the players I hadn’t taken into account,” he said. “Like, I had the trumpets in their high range for a little too long, and their lips were basically dead by the end of the piece.” He made adjustments so the trumpet section could get through the composition, lips intact.

The band first performed “Escape!” at Jonathan Alder’s spring concert.

“Getting to play (one of my compositions) in front of an audience was neat. It’s not an experience I’ve ever had before,” Rennie said, adding that he appreciated all of the positive feedback he received.

Then, as is tradition, the seniors in the band voted on what piece from the year they wanted to play at commencement. The choice was easy, and so Rennie got to do it all again on graduation day.

He plans to keep the momentum going. This fall, he will enroll at The Ohio State University to study music composition. His dream is to create music for movies and video games, as well as traditional band and orchestra performances.

[RECORDING of the Jonathan Alder High School band perform Ryan Rennie’s “Escape!”]

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