Update browser for a secure Minnesota Orchestra experience

It looks like you may be using a web browser version that we don't support. Make sure you're using the most recent version of your browser, or try using of these supported browsers, to get the full Minnesota Orchestra experience: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.

Inside the Music

Student Spotlight: Q&A with Composer Luke Soneral

Luke Soneral seated on a piano bench, with grand piano in background on wood floor.
Student composer Luke Soneral

In late January 2024, a series of Students Center Stage Minnesota Orchestra Young People’s Concerts featured the world premiere of a new composition by a Minnesota high school student: Luke Soneral’s Muggle’s March. Soneral, a ninth-grader at Minnetonka High School who studies bass with longtime Orchestra musician Robert Anderson, spoke about the experience, how he got started as composer, future plans and more.

When did you start writing music?

I started writing in the summer of 2020 when I was 12. There wasn’t a whole lot to do because of the pandemic, so I spent lots of time practicing piano, which is my primary instrument. As I progressed through repertoire, I remember being fascinated by the compositional elements of the pieces I was playing, and eventually I started to improvise my own little fragments of melodies at the keyboard. Eventually these scraps turned into real phrases, and phrases into whole pieces. I remember my first piece was for solo piano, which I dubbed Tears because of its slow and melancholy style. It started as a two-bar theme, which developed into a melody, and eventually my first ever composition.

What’s your typical process of starting a new composition?

I believe that the hardest part of writing a new piece is starting it. I don’t think there is anything more intimidating than staring at a blank piece of paper and coming up with music. The easiest way, I find, to get around this is to begin the composition with a small spark. Nothing big, no grand introduction, just a phrase or motif to prove to myself that I can make the music go somewhere. Once I find that spark, instinct takes over and I find that the piece basically writes itself as each idea blends with the next, and the momentum from one section feeds into the next section.

What instruments do you play and what’s your favorite instrument to compose for?

I play piano and double bass. Although piano is my primary instrument, it is the hardest instrument for me to write for. This is because I tend to write melodically, through flowing melodies and contrapuntal lines rather than through vertical chords. I like to think horizontally from phrase to phrase and across the bar lines, but piano forces me to think more vertically. My favorite instrument to write for is clarinet because it is versatile, has a huge dynamic range and fits my writing style.

What were your first thoughts when you learned your music would be performed by the Minnesota Orchestra, and how would you describe the experience of hearing them play your music?

I first learned that the Orchestra would be taking up the piece by my bass teacher, Robert Anderson, who advocated for my music. I was overjoyed and extremely grateful for the opportunity! It is hard to describe the experience of hearing your music performed live by an amazing orchestra—nothing in life compares to it. Up until the performances in January, the only version of Muggle’s March I had heard was through computer-generated sounds on notation software. It was an incredible experience hearing the Orchestra bring to life every last detail on the page exactly as I had imagined it in my mind. To hear the incredible tones and colors that the talented players and the Orchestra produced left me speechless. I am truly grateful.

Can you describe your piece Muggle’s March and how long it took you to write?

Muggle’s March took me about six weeks to write. The term “muggles” comes from the Harry Potter series, describing “non-magic” folk. When I consider the new music that is written today, much of it is atonal music, or music without a key. This music appeals to many people trained in music, but isn’t always relatable to everyone. While I have written atonal music and find it interesting, I wrote the Muggle’s March to be accessible to as many people as possible, a dedication to “non-music” folk. It replicates many of the elements you might find in folk or pop music, even Mozart symphonies and Sousa marches—stuff that “muggles” like you and me enjoy. I wanted to make a piece that most people could relate to and connect with.

What are some future composing projects you’re planning or would like to do some day?

I like to write for “underrepresented” instruments, ones with less repertoire. Some of the oldest instruments, like violins and cellos for example, have 400 years of repertoire written for them. While I enjoy writing for these and other popular instruments, it is like immediately competing with some of the greatest composers who ever lived for performances. But when I write for newer instruments with less existing repertoire, the music has higher value because there is not much written for those instruments.

What advice do you have for other young people who are interested in composing?

Anyone who has an interest in music should at least experiment with composing because it is a great way to express creativity through music. It also gives you a more complete understanding of the music you are performing on your instrument because, by analyzing what the composer is trying to do, you gain insight about how to perform what is written.