Posted By Paul Smith on November 1, 2011
Sean O’Loughlin is a rising name in the music world. His music is characterized by vibrant rhythms, passionate melodies, and colorful scoring. Commissions and conducting appearances with many professional orchestras highlight and showcase his diverse musical abilities. He was the assistant conductor and arranger for a production of Sgt. Pepper Live at the Paris Hotel Las Vegas as well as music director and conductor for Cheap Trick’s Dream Police Live show. Through his growing number of commissioned and published works, he is excited to continue contributing to the rich history of orchestral and wind band literature. An annual ASCAP Special Awards winner, Sean was a composition fellow at the Henry Mancini Institute, and holds composition degrees from New England Conservatory and Syracuse University. He is represented by IMG Artists and his music is published by Carl Fischer and Hal Leonard. Sean, his wife Dena and daughter Kate reside in Los Angeles.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Sean about his musical experiences from his earliest days until now.
When did you begin in music? I started in the summer of 2nd grade.
What instrument did you begin with? I originally wanted to play saxophone, but my band director thought trumpet was better since I could sing pitches back to him.
Did you have a specific “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician? I think it was the first time I was chosen to be a soloist with the band in 7th grade. I played “Rise” by Herb Alpert.
What inspired you to become a composer? In high school, I started listening to the Star Wars soundtrack (on vinyl, no less). Once I transferred it to a cassette tape, I was able to listen to it anywhere. I found myself transcribing the melodies and harmonies and was fascinated.
When did you start composing and what kind of instrument of ensemble did you start writing for? I started composing in high school as an outgrowth of my senior Music Theory class. In college I was a music education major, but quickly added a double major in composition by my sophomore year. I first wrote for a small brass quartet then quickly progressed to a full concert band.
Do you have a mentor, or someone who has influenced your style of writing the most? If so, who would that be? Larry Clark has been a huge influence on my career, especially in the wind band and publishing world. His approach and guidance have been integral to my success as a writer. His writing concepts apply to every style of writing including large orchestra, chamber works, and marching band.
What would you say defines your style? My style can be characterized as distinctly American with a focus on melody and engaging rhythms. I am constantly challenging myself to explore new sounds and am always on the lookout for new techniques.
What are you working on now? I just finished several orchestral arrangements for Sarah McLachlan, and a duet arrangement for Diana Krall and Itzhak Perlman with orchestra. Now my focus is turning to a festival solo book for beginners and some publishing assignments.
What is your favorite instrumental piece by another composer? I have several pieces that jump to mind. Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, Concerto for Orchestra by Bartok and Bernstein’s 2nd Symphony — “Age of Anxiety.” These works both inspire and educate as I listen and study them over and over again. I am also very interested in film music, namely the works of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri.
Do you have one of your own works which you would call your favorite? Not really. I put my best efforts into each work. Some of my upper-level pieces show my more advanced compositional techniques, whereas my beginning band pieces showcase my resolve to write serious music for younger students.
Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing? The main thing is to write as much as you can for as many different mediums and ensembles as you can. Being a diverse composer and arranger will only enhance your chances at making a living as a composer. Also, make an effort to align yourself with people who can hire you, like band directors, performers, conductors, and artistic planners for orchestras. Knowing other composers is good for companionship, but they are looking for work just like you and probably won’t hire you for something they can do themselves.
Would you say your music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration? It all depends on the deadline for a particular piece or arrangement. I have had to write pieces in one day, while others I have had several months to complete. To be honest, each situation requires more craft than inspiration. When you make a living as a writer, you often do not have time to be inspired.
Do you have a specific type or style of work you prefer to write for? I enjoy the variety of one day writing for the Boston Pops, then the very next day writing a beginning band piece. To me, if my name is on it then I am enjoying it and proud of it.
What is your favorite aspect of composing? I think the journey of process is my favorite part. Playing around with different possibilities, textures, and orchestrations makes me feel like an artist with paint. You dab a little color here, splash a little rhythm there, and make it all come together at the end. The hardest part is deciding on melodic or rhythmic material that will be the basis of an entire piece. The “hook” has to be a good one to justify an entire composition.
Could you tell me something people don’t know about you? I am a huge sports fan. I grew up playing baseball, basketball, golf and competed in high school with all three. I even won the Syracuse Symphony golf tournament one year. While in college, I became heavily involved in men’s competitive softball. As a result, I was inducted into the New York State Softball Hall of Fame last year. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but any time you are in some type of Hall of Fame, it’s pretty cool.
Rapid Fire Questions:
- What is your favorite word? Inspire
- What is your least favorite word? Excuse
- What sound or noise do you love? My daughter’s laugh
- What sound or noise do you hate? Two forks rubbing together
- What is on your iPod? Mostly film scores , 20th century classical works, and the numerous pop and rock bands that I have arranged for
- What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I am an avid reader, so I would love to try my hand at writing a fictional novel someday.
- What is your favorite composition? If I had to pick one, it would be Leonard Bernstein’s 2nd Symphony
- Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, living or dead, that you haven’t yet? The band U2. I think their songs would be amazing with an orchestra behind them.
- If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that, be? John Williams. His craft and creativity have been a big influence on my writing.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
Click here for a listing of Sean’s music available through J.W. Pepper.