Grant Luhmann composed his first musical score in the eighth grade. He persuaded his music teacher to have the middle-school band perform it at the annual spring concert.
It was a lively, upbeat piece called “Dance of the Meadowlark.” Luhmann conducted as his classmates performed.
He had never conducted before. “I was surprised I was able to pull off the tempo and time signature changes,” he said. “That taught me how exciting a public performance can be.”
Since then, the Centennial High School senior has composed dozens of pieces, drawing inspiration from such sources as the haunting words of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” the death of the albatross in the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and more abstract concepts of unity vs. disunity.
His works have been performed by the Grammy-winning Parker String Quartet, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra and the Encore Wind Ensemble.
Now, he is one of about two dozen young composers to win a national award from the ASCAP Foundation. He was named one of the Morton Gould Young Composers Award winners.
It’s the latest in a string of honors for the Lino Lakes composer. An accomplished oboist, he is in the top ensemble of Minnesota Youth Symphonies.
“You are going to hear a lot more from him,” said his oboe teacher, Julie Madura. “He is off-the-charts intelligent and extremely sensitive. He is a very together person and his family is incredibly supportive of everything he does.”
Luhmann will attend Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music on scholarship. He will major in music composition with an oboe concentration.
“I’ve been here 22 years, and Grant is our first real composer,” said Centennial High Band Director Becky Weiland. “It’s not at all like something you would see from a high school student or even a college student. To do the high level of composition Grant is doing at age 18 is remarkable. It’s more than 1-4-5 chord progressions. Grant is not writing songs; he is writing major compositions.”
Luhmann wrote “Firecracker” for the Centennial Wind Ensemble, a score that includes 15 woodwind, 12 brass and seven percussion parts. The ensemble premiered it in February at the Minneapolis Convention Center for a Minnesota Music Educators Association convention.
“It was fun and playful,” Weiland said. “It was really advanced writing.”
Origins of his interest
How did Luhmann develop a passion for musical composition?
His family isn’t particularly musical. His mother is a high school media specialist who played piano and sang choir in school. His father works for the federal government.
As a little boy, he wasn’t immediately drawn to music, said his mother.
“He didn’t like the radio on,” remembers Jackie Luhmann. “I liked to sing and he told me to be quiet.”
Luhmann took up the cello in fourth grade. He didn’t like to practice. In sixth grade, he switched to the oboe.
His uncle, a high school band director, gave him a private lesson. It sparked an interest and his parents signed him up for private lessons. His mother bought him a CD of oboe concerti. They listened to it in the car. Initially, his parents exposed their son to theater and music. As the son quickly eclipsed the parents, he began teaching them about music.
“My parents did a good job of exposing me to the arts,” Luhmann said. “Now I bring everything I love and share it with my parents. I like to say I trained them well.”
“I am a much more sophisticated listener because of Grant,” Jackie Luhmann said. “He has taught me a lot.”
He’s come a long way since the Meadowlark. He wrote his first works using a computer program to compose with scant knowledge of music theory or instrumentation. He now composes with pencil and paper, incorporating more complex music theory. He’s studied under acclaimed Twin Cities composer Libby Larsen.
Writing every day
Luhmann has set up a work space in the basement of his home. It includes a piano and a table.
“My rule is I have to write every single day,” he said.
He said he constantly revises his work, sometimes even literally cutting and pasting bits of music from one page to the next.
He describes his ASCAP award-winning score “Music for 4 Winds, Percussion and Piano” as much more abstract than his earlier works. It explores the themes of unity vs. disunity.
“The instruments start out in pairs,” Luhmann explains. “Disunity develops over the course of the piece. There is a point where they are all in their own worlds.”
Flashes of inspiration often wash over Luhmann as he drifts off to sleep.
He leaves messages for himself singing a few notes or describing the idea rolling through his brain. He then is able to listen to the message the next day and pick up where he left off.
Jackie Luhmann said composition has become her son’s overwhelming passion. She remembers waiting to go on a tour at Gettysburg on a family vacation.
“You see the light bulb go on,” Jackie Luhmann explained. “He said, ‘I need a piece of paper and a pencil right now’.’’
“It’s been phenomenal to watch him grow,” she said. “It’s been a real honor.”