Red Oak band to perform student's musical piece inspired by Orange River, baobab trees

Kenya Menjivar
Waxahachie Daily Light

John Dunnachie from Red Oak Middle School has composed his own musical piece titled "Die Baobab van Oranje", which is Afrikaans for “The Baobab of Orange."

The eighth-grade clarinet player began this piece at the beginning of the school semester, and made it with inspiration from the baobab trees and the Orange River in South Africa. 

Red Oak band teacher Megan Czerwieski is very proud to have a student as young as John to write a complete piece at his age. 

"John is a clarinet player in our top middle school band. I've taught John since he was a sixth-grade clarinet player. In fact, I think I maybe even helped him pick clarinet as his instrument at the end of fifth grade. I've known him for a while, and I've got a great relationship with him. I know how hard of a worker he is. I know how talented he is. He's put a lot of effort into playing clarinet, and I know he's been messing around with composing and coming up with different melodic ideas, but he told me earlier in the year that he had started working on a band piece. Sometimes students will say, 'Hey, I've started working on this' or 'I'm thinking about this' ... but I really had no guess even to how complex it would be or if it was just a melody with some harmonies to it or just an idea to be had," Czerwieski said. 

Czerwieski was surprised when Dunnachie shared the completed piece with a fully flushed out band piece with multiple parts.

"He had already figured out the notation. He'd gotten onto an online music writing program and had put countless hours into it. Just the fact that any student ... to actually come up with an actual idea and for it to be this complex and to put the time in to get it notated is something that is so far advanced. It's not something that is really taught. It's something that is just a natural gift. So that's why for any student at any age to do it, it's more of an advanced college student composing or at least an upper level high school student, but for an eighth-grade student to have these original ideas and figure them out on his own and write this piece that we are now working on and performing, it would be like an eighth-grade student going up to his English teacher and going, 'By the way, I've written a novel,' " Czerwieski shared.

Czerwieski emphasized that she cannot take credit for teaching this composition to him because they're all his ideas. Many of Dunnachie's ideas are made from inspirations from different world music such as Latin music, Indian music or from South Africa, including this piece he has created. 

"He was inspired of the image of the tree. The Orange River is the largest river in South Africa, so he has an image of this baobab tree growing beside the banks of the Orange River. It's a lot of African inspired," Czerwieski said.

“It’s kind of my first, it’s actually my second ... When I was writing the piece, I felt like I had to do it because one I have a passion for it, two I have a goal. When she told me we were going to do something for the spring concert, I already had this melody in my head ... So I started making part of the music," Dunnachie shared.

This piece will be performed for the first time in front of a live audience on Thursday, May 13, at the Red Oak Middle School Spring concert. This will also be the first time the band has had a live audience since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I feel great. I can’t wait to hear it because of course, you know technology is not the greatest, but I can’t wait to hear it and see what everyone thinks about it," Dunnachie said.

The concert will be held from 6-8:30 p.m. The audience is limited to a maximum of three family members per student. Parents must pre-register for assigned seating. According to ROISD, safety precautions will be in place and masks are required.

Dunnachie sees himself continuing to play clarinet and digging deeper into composition in his future. “That’s my core instrument. I’m really good at it. I’d love to learn more about it and the heart if music," he shared. 

As his teacher Czerwieski believes that Dunnachie's career will continue and grow stronger with the right mentors. 

"That's one of the reasons that I want to brag on him as much as possible now. There's a lot that I can help him with, and there's a lot that I can teach him, but as far as composition, there are people out there – I have friends that are composers that I hope to get him in touch with," Czerwieski explained. "I think if he wanted to go on and just be a professional musician, just playing on his instrument, he (is) absolutely set up for that. Then all the composition work and all of the ideas he is having now with his limited musical experience – I don't mean that as a criticism; just, he's 14. There's only so much he' s experienced, but drawing inspirations from those things and composing now, I can only imagine that's just going to get better and more rich the longer he composes and the more he's exposed to."