8th Grade Student John Dunnachie Created Beautiful Song
Often the uplifting of others comes without us even realizing.
Such as with Red Oak Middle School eighth-grader John Dunnachie. He thought he was writing a musical piece for his school band. Instead, he wrote something that would challenge the mindset of many adults.
John’s creation is entitled “Die Baobab van Oranjie,” which is African for “The Baobab of Orange.” It was inspired by the Baobab trees and the Orange River in South Africa.
“This is weird. Everything is happening so quick, and I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be a big deal, I was just working on a piece of music for my band,” John said.
Others were so inspired by John’s creation that he was asked to perform it live with the band at the school’s recent spring concert.
A Beautiful & Complex Piece
“I knew that John had many ideas, and he had played some of them for me, but when he said he was composing a band piece I underestimated the scope and difficulty of it, as well as the beauty of it,” said Red Oak Fine Arts Department Chair/Electives Lead Teacher Megan Czerwieski.’
“I thought I would be helping him take the things he had figured out on piano and helping him transcribe and notate it, but he brought it to me fully fleshed out. We have only made minor edits together.
“I would compare it to a student walking into their English teacher and saying, ‘I wrote a novel, can we read it as a class?’ Things like that happen so rarely in any teacher’s career that I wanted to celebrate it, and more importantly celebrate John.”
Making his work even more impressive, John only began making music in the sixth grade, stopping in the seventh grade because he just wasn’t overly pleased with his ideas. Then, the world went into a COVID-19 pandemic, and he was given a present that helped bring out the natural gift he was also given.
Boredom During Pandemic Results In Composing Music
“I was really bored and my brother and sister-in-law gave me a keyboard. I spent every day just playing around and finding random melodies and ideas,” John recalled. “Then I found this online program called Noteflight that you can use to compose music. The first piece that I wrote was called ‘The Moon over Russia is the Moon over India’ – except the title was in Russian and Hindi. The music was original, but my dad said it sounded Russian or Indian so I came up with a name that fit.
“When Mrs. Czerwieski was talking about picking music for our band for the spring concert, I thought, ‘I have this other tune in my head that reminded me of Summer Dances.’ That was the piece we were working on performing when COVID hit, and I thought, what if I make it into a song for the spring concert? I started making more parts and finding more ideas and then it just all came together.
“My new piece had an African feel to it, so I searched for information about Africa and found out about the Baobab tree and the Orange River in South Africa.”
Self Taught Piano Player
John, who does not come from a musical family is a self-taught piano player who also plays the clarinet. He said he felt a passion to complete the piece in time for the spring concert – which, by the way, was his first live performance of one of his works.
“I have written a bunch of other songs, but I haven’t performed them live. I have a lot of other songs that I have started working on, so maybe someday,” he said.
Writing any successful piece of music is indeed a challenge. But Czerwieski said John has always been one to not only accept, but embrace challenges. She learned this almost immediately after meeting him.
“I was able to meet John as a fifth-grader and help him pick his instrument for sixth grade. He reminded me that he chose clarinet because it was the hardest of his choices and he wanted the challenge,” she remembered. “He has been a clarinet player in our top ensemble for seventh and eighth grades, making the all-region band both years and earning the highest ratings on his solos each year.
“John’s potential at this point is unlimited. His skills are advancing so quickly that I could easily see him being a performer or teacher if he wants. His skills as a composer are incomprehensible to me. They are not something that can be taught. It is a gift and inspiration that will only expand as he gets older and has more musical and life experiences.”
Czerwieski isn’t basing this on his latest creation, though it has taken him to a higher level it seems. She said John’s talent was quite clear in his previous writings, despite what he may have thought of them himself.
“John has played some of his other ideas for me on piano or clarinet. The melodies that he writes are beautiful and haunting, and none of them sound the same. The maturity in each of them is truly inspiring,” she said.
“Each student is unique and special, but John is different in the best ways. He is a kind young man who encourages the other clarinets in his section. He is talented and gifted and determined and hard-working. I am just grateful that I have been able to see him pour all of that into music and share it with us.”
As for his own favorite kind of music?
“That’s a hard one. Mixed? I have a lot of different genres that I like. I like music that tells a story behind it, you can feel the meaning behind it, not just how good it sounds,” he said.
And yes, he does want to have a career in music when he grows up, he said. But there’s something else he is strongly considering.
“I want to be a composer, but at the same time I also want to be a chemist,” he said.
Either way, the world could have some great things coming from John.