It took 15-year-old Dante Luna just one month to compose 4elements, a piece that led him to Atlanta for a father-son collaboration that culminated in a performance with the Atlanta Ballet at the Centre for Dance Education.
His father, Armando Luna, a teacher at the Atlanta-based school, choreographed the ballet dancers in the performance at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech on May 22.
Luna, of Hollywood, began writing the piece based on the four elements at the age of 13 while listening to the rain. He fleshed the idea into four parts at the behest of his mentor, Richard Warne, who recently retired from the Hollywood United Methodist Church as music director.
“He really helped develop what I already had," Luna said. "It just helped me bloom. He didn’t help me compose. He just guided me.”
Luna’s father, Armando, choreographed the ballet after being inspired by Dante’s work.
Luna wrote each piece by improvising on the piano.
As the principal percussionist on the orchesta of his high school, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, he found the percussive parts the easiest to write.
“When I write for orchestra it’s not hard, it just takes a long time,” he said.
He's used to the hard work.
“In the opera I played 14 different instruments," he said. "I wrote all the parts in one book then I switched between two books. I used every limb of my body. I had four foot pedals.”
The soft-spoken Luna, who seemed to glow when discussing the performance, described the experience as “really cool.” The only problem derived from the recording used by the dancers to practice their routine.
“The dancers had the original recordings so I had to change what I had already fixed.”
He had to sacrifice a few perfected tempo changes to make sure the dancers could maintain the proper energy level in their movements.
Though this was his first choreographed performance, Luna has been experiencing the ballet since he was in the womb.
“When I was pregnant I played music a lot,” said Michele Szymanski, Luna’s mother. “His dad played ballet music for him even more than I did. He was bombarded by it.”
Both of Luna’s parents were ballet dancers when he was born.
Luna will finish high school in just three years, but isn’t waiting until then to expand his portfolio.
This summer he will attend the Interlochen Arts Camp for percussion.
“They play my most favorite pieces ever,” Luna said with a smile. “Some people there are better than me, it’s a great challenge.”
After Interlochen, Luna hopes to be accepted to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Composition Fellowship where he would meet some of his idols.
“John Adams is my one of favorite living composers," he said. "I’ll get to meet him.”
If accepted, Luna’s pieces will be performed by the Philharmonic and he will spend two years composing many pieces.
He also plans to apply to an impressive list of colleges including USC, Juilliard, the Berklee College of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music and Rice University.
Luna won one of the highest honors at l last year and has his pictures up among the decades-old Wall of Fame in the music room. Recently, another one of his mentors, orchestra teacher saw him perform with the new high school orchestra. (Luna composed a piece for the middle school band to play at their final concert.)
McDonough said, "Dante is amazing and I look forward to see what great things he will accomplish."
(Full disclosure: Dante is the nephew of , and his sister, Michele, is a math teacher at Walter Reed Middle School.)