Saturday, July 26, 2008

Song celebrates FBI centennial

(Click here to listen to the song)

As soon as officials heard the song Dak Van Vranken composed for the FBI's 100th anniversary, they found a place for it in their jam-packed program.

The fact that it came from a member of the FBI family--Dak's father has been an agent for 20 years--made it special, said Mike Kortan, who oversaw the anniversary events.

The fact that it came from a 15-year-old made it a topic of conversation.

"Anyone who knew the whole story was taken by the talent and the ability there," said Kortan, deputy assistant director of the Office for Public Affairs. "We were all very moved by the song."

Today is the FBI's birthday, but commemorations have been going on for almost two weeks.

Dak's big event came July 17, when his song--an orchestral piece titled "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity: A Centennial Tribute to the FBI"--made its public debut. Hundreds of FBI employees heard the recording during a ceremony at the bureau's Washington headquarters, then about 1,500 former special agents listened to it at the Newseum.

"It was a wonderful tribute to 100 years of the FBI," Kortan said. "I'm not a music expert, but I could hear how various parts of the music relate to various parts of the FBI mission."

Dak, a rising sophomore, smiled at that.

"You never really know how people are going to react, and I was actually surprised," he said modestly. "People liked it. They really liked it."

He neglected to mention that FBI Director Robert Mueller and U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey complimented him as they posed with him for photos.

His mother and father, Rae and Ron Van Vranken of North Stafford, gladly elaborated as they raved about Dak's stirring composition--more than he ever would.

For his mom, the song passes the "cry test" every time.

"Oh, it's fabulous," she said, wiping away a tear.

For his dad, it's simply astounding.

"We've learned to get out of Dak's way, because he knows what he wants," Ron Van Vranken said. "Every note you hear is from him, from his head to his fingers to the keyboard."

Dak's family shares an interest in the arts. They don't watch television, except DVDs, and they spend their evenings reading, playing charades or watching each other perform.

Luke, 17, has landed several prominent roles in plays at North Stafford. Olivia, 11, sings.

All three children spend time in the family's impressive music room. A grand piano sits against one wall, a Casio keyboard along another. Dak composed his FBI song there, as well as other scores for a fantasy epic he and Luke are writing.

Dak thought about his dad and the ideals he embodies when he wrote the FBI tribute at his father's request. He remembered stories about his dad chasing bank robbers and kidnappers.

"He's done the same stuff you see in movies, which is cool," Dak said.

Initially, Dak's father hoped the song would be almost hymn-like. But Dak insisted on incorporating darker sounds as well.

The music includes elements of danger, intrigue and triumph, said Chris Salamone, a producer/engineer at Salamone's Recording Studio in Fredericksburg. Dak wrote parts for more than 200 instruments, and Salamone recorded and mixed the tracks.

"He's exceptional," Salamone said. "What he's creating sounds to me like something that would come from somebody with many more years of experience."

Dak hopes to get plenty of experience. He'd love to write movie scores, and he stresses that his compositions are meant for symphonies.

"He doesn't want to be known as a piano player, but my gosh," his mother said, looking at Dak, "you're so good. You are."

"He wants others to play his music," his father said.

"They will," his mother responded.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

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