LA PLATA, Md. – A lot of kids like listening to music, Isaiah DeLeonard likes composing it. The rising sophomore at La Plata High School spent nearly six months penning and arranging his first full composition “War March.” Written for a full orchestra, the composition was inspired by one created by Mark Lortz, a composer and music arranger.
“In concert band, we played a piece called ‘Heart of Madness,’” DeLeonard said. “I really liked it. It’s about Edgar Allen Poe and introduced his poems with a different melody.”
With melodies inspired by Poe’s “The Bells,” “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” swirling in his head, DeLeonard started work on “War March.” The nearly five-minute piece has parts for a full concert band, with DeLeonard using software to individually place and layer notes throughout for each instrument.
“Isaiah’s composition is exceptional,” David Monk, North Point High School’s instrumental music teacher, said. “When listening to it, one would never guess that one so young could have done this, much less on his first try.” (DeLeonard said he would like to copyright “War March,” so it is not available to listen to online yet.)
DeLeonard admitted that he is often thinking of music and melodies.
“I constantly have a thought about music,” he said. “I have to capture the moment while it’s still there or it ends up just ‘poofing’ right out of my mind and I’ve lost it.”
“War March” will be heard in July when DeLeonard introduces the piece to judges at a national competition in Atlantic City. Earlier this spring, the Charles County branch of the NAACP hosted a local Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) competition. Students who earned gold medals at the local contest, scoring between 95 to 100, are invited to the national contest.
Each year, high school students across the country embark on projects to hone their skills through the ACT-SO program. From visual arts and business to performing and culinary arts, participants work with community-based volunteers for a year to develop projects and performances. That work culminates in local and national events where students compete for scholarships and other rewards.
STEM, performing arts, humanities the visual arts, business and culinary – each area has several subcategories. For example, the STEM area houses focus areas such as architecture, Earth and space sciences, medicine and health, and others. Humanities breaks down to poetry, original essay, short story and more. DeLeonard will compete in the performing arts — musical composition category as well as the architecture category in the STEM interest area. For the latter, DeLeonard designed plans for a sports complex at Anacostia Park in Washington, D.C. While he enjoys playing and watching sports, particularly basketball, music takes up most of his time, DeLeonard said.
“I take music very seriously,” he said. “I take a lot of things seriously,” DeLeonard admitted. “But music is one of those things that is really close to my heart, and I’m passionate about it.”
It is a passion that is evident to those around him. “He’s an amazing student,” Stephanie Gioia, vocal music teacher at La Plata, said. “He’s the kind of student who if he sees or hears something that needs to be done musically, he just does it.” His talent and dedication as an underclassman have Gioia interested to see where DeLeonard will go in the future. “I can’t imagine where he’ll be as a senior.” Monk, who teaches DeLeonard during private music lessons, also sees and is impressed by DeLeonard’s drive and talent. “Isaiah has a tremendous amount of potential,” Monk said. “He is probably in the top 1% of private students whom I have taught. He is going to be an amazing euphonium player — he’s already ‘pretty good.’”
DeLeonard, who was named to the 2022 Junior All-State Band, has been interested in music for almost as long as he can remember. The oldest of three siblings born into a musical family, DeLeonard started taking piano lessons when he was about 8. From there, he joined his elementary-school band — first on trumpet, then on percussion. It was in middle school that he was introduced to the euphonium, which has since become his “main” instrument. “My teacher needed a euphonium player, and we already had an army of snare drummers,” he said. “I still play drums, but primarily I play euphonium.”
At La Plata, DeLeonard is a member of just about every band the school boosts including the symphonic band, orchestra, pit orchestra, jazz band and marching band. “Marching band is probably my favorite,” he said. “I get to spend a lot of times with my friends and play music.”
DeLeonard is interested in continuing his study of music in college. From there, he would like to play in a conservatory and eventually teach. But first, there’s national ACT-SO competition. “I would not be surprised at all if he was one of the top competitors at the national level,” Gioia said. While she believes DeLeonard has a bright future, she also said he is humble. “He can be just a regular, silly student too,” she said. “He doesn’t act like he knows how talented he is.”
DeLeonard is not the only Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) student who advances to the national ACT-SO competition. Six CCPS students are slated to compete next month. They are:
- Candice Carrington — Thomas Stone High School junior, poetry performance.
- Candace Jackson — 2022 graduate of Maurice J. McDonough High School, music vocal contemporary and music vocal classical.
- Isaiah DeLeonard — La Plata High School sophomore, architecture and music composition.
- Kelsey Njembu — 2022 graduate of North Point High School, music instrumental classical.
- Paris Roberson — 2022 graduate of McDonough, poetry written.
- Shaniyah Hall — North Point sophomore, mathematics and poetry.