Lights go down. Baton goes up. Instruments start to play. 

It’s all music to the audience’s ears. But for one person sitting there, it’s magic. The composer, 17-year-old Dryden Bennett, could not believe that a hobby he started during lockdown could turn into something played by the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and enjoyed by hundreds in the crowd. But how did it start?

image provided by Dryden Benett

Dryden was born in Kelowna and is a Rutland Senior Secondary School senior. Currently, he is a composer, pianist, and trombonist for the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra (OSYO), though he started his musical journey in a school band. “[The] first concert that I performed at was in December of my grade nine-year. I didn’t play very well at all. Actually, I played very horribly.” Dryden stated, “I didn’t want to play really bad again because that was quite embarrassing, honestly. So I practiced a whole bunch. I joined Jazz band afterward. Then my next concert in April sometime, I did much better. And at the end of grade nine, I got the Most Improved Musician award.”

“I liked music and being in bands in grade nine, but it wasn’t a deep love. And I found that love for music when I joined the [OSYO]. We were playing the 1812 Overture. So this is my first rehearsal with the OSYO and hearing the strings play that slower, smooth, beautiful grand melody. That’s when I said to myself, I love music so much.” 

“I started composing my own pieces at the beginning of the pandemic because by that time I was halfway through Grade 10 and I was quite immersed with the music program and I just recently joined the [OSYO] as well. But I wanted a way to keep in touch with music because I couldn’t go to rehearsals anymore, so I just started writing music, [and] kind of wrote down whatever came to my mind. At first, I had no idea of harmony or melody, but my band teacher taught me all the basic chords and how chords move between one another. Because of all the free time I had, I spent my time composing all day, and eventually, I got better and better.”

Dryden mentioned how initially, he didn’t plan for the pieces to be played by other people. “None of my pieces I thought were really good enough to be performed by a real group of musicians. But that changed when I joined the composition program with the OSYO. I was studying with Martini, a composer based in Vancouver. I wrote the piece Tangerine Trees for the [Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, which is the senior orchestra], to read.”

“I got the inspiration for [Tangerine Trees] from another English project I made in grade nine. A little children’s book [I wrote].” Dryden stated, “[The story] was [about] a boy who lived in a small oceanside village. He wanted to leave the village, so he built a boat out of scrap wood and sailed away and eventually he found an archipelago with some islands. But there [was] a special island that had a tangerine tree on it. So he went to pick the tangerines and then sailed back home, shared the news with the villagers and periodically visited the island until he decided to spend his last day on the island.” 

“Rosemary, [the conductor for the OSO] was quite fond of [the piece] and she wanted a chance to get that work showcased, and she thought it fit well with one of their concerts. [The] OSO’s first in-person concert again since the pandemic had started [was coming up], and they played my piece in [their] concert.” 

When I asked Dryden how he felt about listening to his composition performed live for the first time, a big smile lit up his face. “I was nearly moved to tears because I was so happy. Just having the recognition for all the work I put into composition, it just it felt awesome for it to finally be paid off in some way. I never would have thought that the first group to perform my music would be a professional orchestra.”

“I wanted to be an architect before I wanted to be a composer because I wanted to design a skyscraper that would leave a lasting impact on people. But now I’ve discovered that with composition, music can have just the same effect.” 

image provided by Dryden Benett

Dryden told me, “My future plans are to attend UBC in Vancouver to study musical composition there. And then from there, I hope to find work as a composer writing music for either video games or for movies, whichever one finds me first.” 

You can listen to Dryden’s piece, Tangerine Trees, here