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photograph: julie fowells

LUYANDA KUNENE remembers exactly when he decided to become a composer. It was, while playing with the pedals on the family piano, when his foot slipped and he accidentally discovered the beautiful sonority of all the strings vibrating at once. Or, maybe it was when, as a percussionist in the back of the school orchestra while counting measures before his next entrance, he discovered the sounds of the rest of the ensemble blending together. Or it could have been while he was playing with his friend’s Radio Shack 50-in-1 electronic projects kit to create a rudimentary synthesizer.

Born in Los Angeles to South African parents, Lu has always had his feet in two different cultures. Though they eventually settled in Madison, Wisconsin, the family traveled often to different countries in Africa and Europe, where Lu discovered the differences and similarities of many musical cultures. Lu’s early music studies focused on percussion, which he credits with his early interest in the rhythmic aspects of music and composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams.

But it was the jagged rhythms and expressive sonorities of Jerry Goldsmith; the soaring melodies and unabashed emotionalism of John Williams; the directness and urgency of Ennio Morricone that turned Lu’s ear towards film music. Here he discovered music that spoke in terms of story and subtext, which led him to studies of film and music at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He later completed UCLA’s Film Scoring program, where he had the opportunity to learn from working professionals, including composers Mark Watters, Gerald Fried and Don B. Ray, and music editor Joe E. Rand.

Whether writing film scores, such as the Emmy® Award-winning documentary “George Marshall and the American Century” for PBS or “The Caller” for filmmaker Glenn McClanan, or concert works such as “Miracle Mile” or “Dualities 43/2:3”, Lu strives not only to capture certain musical types, but to transcend them.

And he writes music for his friends’ weddings.

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