If working with some of the biggest pop stars around has gone to Sean O’Loughlin’s head, it sure doesn’t come across on the telephone.
O’Loughlin, who’s conducted orchestras for Adele, Natalie Merchant and other well-known performers, will be in Wichita to lead the Wichita Wind Ensembles and Friends University Concert Band. When he heard the Maize South High School band was preparing to play one of his original compositions, he offered to stop at its practice, too.
“As long as I’m there, keep me busy,” O’Loughlin said from his home in southern California. “I can sit in a hotel room any time. I’d rather be out there engaging with people.”
His hosts said they are excited that O’Loughlin is excited.
“He’s one of the most published and prolific composers for new wind band ensemble music at this time,” said John Taylor, professor of music and director of music education and instrumental music at Friends and Wichita Wind Ensembles conductor. “He writes full time, goes around and premieres his works as well.”
O’Loughlin probably is as well-known as a conductor and arranger. His schedule this year included arranging music for the Indigo Girls symphony tour, conducting and arranging music for Sarah McLachlan’s symphony orchestra tour and working with the San Francisco and Oregon symphonies. With the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, he’s arranged and/or conducted for Hall and Oates, Gloria Estefan, Harry Connick Jr. and more.
His Saturday appearance with the Wichita Wind Ensembles will mark the Kansas debut, as far as he knows, of his new composition “Unbound.” It and another piece on the program, “Ricochet,” are named for ski slopes in northern California.
“I’ve skied both those runs,” O’Loughlin said. “Not with much success, mind you. But I got down. My wife is the real skier.”
Laurie Thornton, a clarinetist with the wind ensemble, was not surprised to hear what inspired the pieces.
“They will be fast and lively,” she said.
O’Loughlin, 39, grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., playing music from an early age and going on to get a degree in music education before shifting his focus to composition at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Contacts he made with that city’s symphony led him to gigs with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“Just like anything else in life, one job becomes a recommendation to the next one,” he said. “The music business is a vast and small one at the same time.”
O’Loughlin has been to Kansas twice before to work with college bands in Pittsburg and Manhattan. He says his education degree comes in handy working with star performers, as well.
“A lot of these rock bands and pop artists, they don’t read music at all, they’re just naturally gifted players,” he said. “It’s so important to be clear in what you’re trying to say.”
The Wichita Wind Ensembles were formed in 1991 as honor bands for middle and high school students across south-central Kansas. A group made up of professional musicians was added six years ago, and backers are hoping O’Loughlin’s appearance can help bring some attention to a genre of music that is perhaps less-known than symphony, orchestra and choral music.
For many wind players, there are few things more fun than playing with a band made up almost entirely of their own kind. For this performance, the professional ensemble will comprise 47 musicians, ranging from flutists and clarinets to trumpet, oboe, saxophone, euphonium, French horn, trombone and tuba players. The only non-wind players are five percussionists.
“When you take out the strings, it has a completely different color,” Thornton said. “I don’t know how else would be to describe it.”
Thornton, a music teacher, quickly adds with a laugh that she’s “not anti-strings.”
“It’s just such fun music, and such a huge variety of music,” she said. “In the clarinet section, we’re always constantly playing.”
In addition to his original compositions, O’Loughlin will conduct the professional ensemble in his arrangement of “Amazing Grace.”
Saturday’s concert, billed as “The Sounds of Musical Standards,” also will include “The Black Horse Troop” by John Philip Sousa and “Operatic Rag” by Julius Lenzberg, which mixes classical and ragtime music.
The concert will serve as a fundraiser for the professional wind ensemble, with a silent auction of items donated by local businesses.
“There are really very few of these in the country,” Taylor said of the ensemble. “It’s kind of a rarity, and we’re just fortunate to have one in Wichita.”