Guilford graduate composes piece for RSO

Jake Runestad wanted to be a band teacher.

And then he heard the Guilford High School wind ensemble performing his first musical composition. “I consider that moment to be when I caught the composing bug,” Runestad wrote in a 2013 email to Guilford Principal Janice Hawkins.

JakeRunestadRunestad, a 2004 Guilford graduate, has gone from composing for a high school wind ensemble to having six organizations commission his work: the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonic of Southern New Jersey and the Virginia Arts Festival.

The RSO will perform Runestad’s composition, “Dreams of the Fallen,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Coronado Performing Arts Center. Pianist Jeffrey Biegel and the Mendelssohn Chorale are featured. According to the RSO’s website, Runestad’s composition “explores a soldier’s emotional response to the experience of war using powerful texts written by Iraq War veteran and award-winning poet Brian Turner.”

In addition, Runestad will be the honored guest at an assembly for Guilford music students at 9:30 Friday morning in the Guilford gym. He will talk about his musical journey, said Rick DeRango, Guilford’s band director.

No doubt he will also talk about how much DeRango did to support him as a musician. (Read more in a Q and A with Runestad on the RSO’s blog.)

Runestad was also a 2003 Rockford Register Star Young American. In a profile 10 years after the recognition, Runestad told the newspaper he gets the same rush each time he hears one of his works performed.

Here at the Rockford Public Schools, we are very fortunate that his first rush was at Guilford.

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

UPDATE: Runestad spoke to about 400 Guilford students in the gym Friday morning. He played a recording of the “Viking Symphony,” the piece he wrote for the Guilford wind ensemble. (It was beautiful; it is no surprise that it still causes Mr. DeRango  to tear up.) He played portions of “Dreams of the Fallen,” his piece commissioned by the RSO and other symphonies.

Runestad was too humble to mention this, but he is among only a handful of people in the country who is able to make a living composing music full-time. It was a slow process. “As many of you know,” he told the students, “having a job in the arts can be difficult.”

Some other lessons he shared with students:

—At first, he wrote bad love songs. One — about a manipulative girl who had broken his heart — was inspired by the demolition of the old Kmart on North Main Street. It ended with the verse: “You don’t deserve this Blue Light Special.”

—He was inspired to write music after listening to the musical score for “Remember the Titans.” Shortly after that, he asked Mr. DeRango if he could compose for Guilford’s band. When Mr. DeRango said yes, he came to school early every morning. He went straight to the band director’s office because he had software to write music and notate it. “That was a really important moment in my life,” he said.

—Stay true to who you are and follow your passions. “In  high school, it’s really hard to be who you are and to remember who you are. We are pushed and pulled in so many ways – by the people around us, by expectations of teachers, by expectations of parents, by expectations of other adults and other people in our lives…I think it’s important that we find something that creates meaning in our lives and that we explore it, we nurture it and we allow it to be part of who we are.”

One student asked if he ever had doubts. “All the time. All the time,” Runestad replied. “Life isn’t perfect,” and you will make mistakes.  “You just keep at it. You keep your focus and you keep working and you will find your way. Definitely.”

Students can get into the 7:30 p.m. Saturday concert free if they present their student ID and ask for the “Star 25” special at the RSO box office.