By Alex Petroski
Eighth-grader Julien Rentsch is already a celebrated music man in his community.
Julien, a 14-year-old at J. Taylor Finley Middle School in Huntington, has been composing music for years and the Finley Honors Orchestra has helped bring his music to life.
For the past two years, the orchestra has performed Julien’s pieces during their concerts under the direction of music teacher and conductor Matthew Gelfer.
“I think having a student like Julien in my orchestra is kind of what you hope for as a music teacher,” Gelfer said in a phone interview.
This past March at a concert at Huntington High School, Julien accompanied the orchestra on the piano during a performance of his piece, titled “Free Spirit.”
“It’s really cool,” Julien said in an interview on Friday. “It was amazing just to hear onstage and the crowd and everything.”
Julien’s parents are both professional photographers, so the arts were a major part of his upbringing. He started playing piano when he was 6 or 7, though Julien said he is not a tireless worker who practices constantly. His father, Andreas Rentsch, agreed.
“It comes almost naturally,” Rentsch said of his son’s musical abilities. “He has that ability to transform his notes into beautiful music without really, I would say, trying too hard.”
Julien said he has a process for composing music. He starts by coming up with melodies to be played on the piano, then adds and subtracts separate tracks from five different instrument groups. He said he works like a chef, adding a dash of strings or a pinch of horns until his recipe is a perfect blend. Julien has three complete pieces composed for full-size orchestras.
Mother Helen Rousakis said she enjoys watching her son on stage, working with the rest of the orchestra.
“I had a perfect view and [Julien was] just having a ball,” Rousakis said of last year’s performance. “He was laughing, he was making eye contact with others. I was just blown away by the camaraderie, how they all just love to work together.”
Julien and both of his parents stressed the impact that Gelfer has had on Julien as a musician.
“Julien is just such a mature kid,” Gelfer said. “A lot of composers can be really precious about their work and what they do, [but] he came at it with a collaborative attitude.”
When it comes to the future, this 14-year-old knows exactly what he wants: to compose musical scores for films one day. He enjoys the work of John Williams, who composed music for the “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” films, among others.
For now the rest of Julien’s time is filled as a multisport athlete and a musician at Greenlawn’s St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Shrine Church, where he plays piano for the junior choir and church fundraisers.
“If I’m into something, I’m just into it,” Julien said about his love of music. “I don’t stop.”