By Jan Mercker

To move along/And sing our songs/In harmony

To speak my truth/And hear yours too/It starts with me

Those are the opening lines of a new composition from Loudoun musician and music teacher Luke Denton that will make its world premiere at the Heritage High School Cluster Concert on March 19.

The concert is a longstanding annual tradition, bringing together young musicians from Heritage along with its feeder middle and elementary schools in and around Leesburg. But this year’s grand finale will be extra special thanks to the original piece “With Pride” written by Denton, the music teacher at Cool Spring Elementary School, just for the concert.

“I’ve spent time writing music for media and also teaching kids how to love making music but have always been looking for a way to marry the two,” Denton said.

“When the opportunity arose to create a piece that an entire cluster of student ensembles would perform together, I couldn’t say yes any quicker.”

Denton’s new piece for chorus, band and strings and will be performed by students from Heritage, Harper Park Middle School and Cool Spring and John W. Tolbert Jr. elementary schools. With musicians ranging in age from 9 to 18, the annual showcase always wraps up with a whole-group piece. For the past few years, directors have been using the same number for the grand finale. But this year, Heritage band director George Herrmann and choral director Jack Krimmel were looking for something different. So, Denton decided to compose and original work especially for the concert, with a message of empathy and inclusion.

“The last several years, whether it’s kids or adults, it’s become increasingly difficult to talk to each other, to not just say our own opinion about things but to listen to others,” Denton said. “All of us are talking to our kids about having pride in how we act. … I thought what a great opportunity because this is kids of all ages going all the way up to adulthood. They seem to understand sometimes better than we do how it’s OK to have different opinions and that we can work together and still get along.”

 


 

Denton is a longtime singer/songwriter, former freelance television composer and a member of the popular local duo Sweetnova with his wife Amy. Returning to composing for a full ensemble has been a challenge, but one he has embraced and enjoyed.

“As a classically trained composer, I wanted to incorporate some of the traditional elements of music that these kids are used to hearing, but I also have added in a little more of a modern feel with a full drum set with electric bass,” Denton said. “It’s very piano heavy, more modern, like something I would write for myself or for Amy and I to play.”

With its simple lyrics and a contemporary, rhythmic feel, the composition’s title is a play on Heritage High School’s mascot, The Pride, but also touches on the idea of taking pride in oneself and respecting others.

“I always tell my students here that I am a music teacher, but I feel like I’m just as much teaching them about character and attitude and how they treat each other and how important that is. Academics are important, but we’ve got to make sure we’re decent human beings first,” Denton said.

Denton’s students at Cool Spring couldn’t be prouder. This year, in addition to the excitement of attending a concert with older musicians in a high school auditorium, they’ll also be sharing the thrill of performing their own teacher’s work.

“It was a little different this year because Mr. Denton wrote it and he knew how everything was supposed to be,” said fifth grader Lorena Ravelo. “He was so familiar with everything about it and we were so excited when we saw Luke Denton in the corner [of the sheet music].”

The students are also enthusiastic about the piece’s message of mutual respect.

“I thought it was a really good message because of all that’s going on today,” said Cool Spring fifth grader Roslyn Hontos.

For Lorena, this year’s concert is especially meaningful since her 15-year-old sister Carla, a student at Heritage, will be one of the guitarists performing on the piece. And the work is definitely resonating with high school performers, who look forward to the concert as a way to show younger students the possibilities in chorus, strings and band programs and get them excited about things to come.

“It’s quality time that we’re having together sharing our passion for music,” said Heritage senior and choir member Christina Mancini.

For her classmate Nick Trusty, doing an original song after several years of performing the same closing piece is refreshing.

“‘With Pride’ was composed locally, and it adds an extra layer of depth and personality to it because it’s local to us and special to us” Trusty said. “The last song we did was very chorally focused but ‘With Pride’ has a lot of instrumental interludes where the orchestra gets a chance to shine. … It does its job wonderfully.”

And for Heritage choir director Krimmel, the song is a perfect fit and something that could take on a life outside of Loudoun for schools looking to showcase both instrumental and choral talent in a range of ages.

“We’re trying to do a lot of things with the concert—not just showing younger kids what the opportunities are but showing the community what our cluster is about,” Krimmel said. “If we can use this as a chance to promote positivity and growth from a younger age and build that all the way up to when they’re in high school, then we’ve done our purpose through music.”

 

Heritage Cluster Fine Arts Night takes place 7-9 p.m. Monday, March 19, at Heritage High School, 520 Evergreen Mills Road SE, Leesburg. Admission is free. For details, go to lcps.org/hhs.

 

 

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