New Website

I’ve got two excuses for my absence from posting any updates on here in over year.

1. It’s been a very busy time, finishing up my coursework at Peabody, while getting a significant amount of writing done, and having some fantastic performances as well.

2. For the past 6 months, on the side of all the higher-up priorities, I’ve been working on creating a new website. I officially launched it this past week, and I’d love it if you checked it out:

I will continue to add entries to this blog, including the occasional essay, but I won’t spend much time updating the bio or work list; instead, please check out the new site for news and updates regarding what I’ve been up to.

Thanks for your patience and continued interest in my little corner of the internet!

An Introduction to “An Introduction; A Diverson”

It’s been a while since I’ve updated. Figured I’d wait until I had something significant to show for it.

Yesterday, the Peabody Symphony Orchestra held a reading of orchestral works by student composers. I was fortunate enough to have a work read. I’m grateful to the orchestra and graduate student conductor Lee Mills, who did a wonderful job of leading the orchestra through the reading.

The pieces is entitled “An Introduction; A Diversion”, for string orchestra. Written this past spring, it went through some revisions in my first lessons here in the fall.

The score can be found here. (Opens in a new window)

I’ll be updating and adding this to the list of works in the coming days.

What I Did This Past Year…

A year ago today, I started this blog with a post about some of my forthcoming (at the time) projects. I didn’t realize this anniversary until today when, as I started a new blog post, I thought it would be appropriate to do some “stocktaking” and see how this all started. The “full circle” result of this post is all too appropriate. So, to update on my proposed ambitions from a year ago:

Sinfonia Brevis was finished in late summer, early fall of last year. The Rondout Valley High School Concert Band, under the direction of my primo pal Randy Loder, did an amazing job of bringing the work to life. Working with the students and experiencing their curiosity at learning a brand new piece of music, written just for them, was truly inspiring. Last month, the first two movements of the work had its Fredonia premiere thanks to conductor Ray Stewart and the Fredonia Concert Band. Next tuesday, Ray and the Band will be presenting the whole work (which turned out to be FIVE movements instead of the planned three).

Doctoral Applications – after a fall/winter of copying and editing scores and CDs, proofing my CV, traveling to interviews, taking placements exams, and anxiously waiting by the mailbox for news, I’m happy to report that this fall I’ll begin my DMA studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. I’m very thrilled, excited – yeah, and a bit nervous! Stay tuned for more on this throughout the summer.

Other projects – Well, I’ve already shared Lesson 13 on the blog. The songs for soprano and guitar (the bass clarinet was nixed early on in the process) became Sappho Fragments and after a great performance by the voice-guitar duo of Adam Shanley and Christina Dudek, it’s gone back to the drawing board for some revisions. Recently I just finished a work for string orchestra entitled An Introduction; A Diversion. It may get a reading here in Fredtown at the end of the semester – more on this later.

New SKASD Album – Should be finished this summer (like we’ve been saying for the past four summers…) NO! It WILL happen this year, and more gigs to come. I’ll post the dates here as I find them out.

COMING SOON: What to expect THIS year….

Missing a pen-pal: John Updike (1932-2009)

I thought I’d share a few words about the late John Updike. I regret this comes so belatedly past the actual day of his passing.

My first encounter with Updike’s work was one summer in high school, can’t recall the year. I noticed on a list of Pulitzer Prize winners that he had won two of them, both for books with the word “Rabbit” in the title. I was intrigued and wanted to get into these books as quickly as I could. I came to find that the two novels, titled Rabbit is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1991) were actually the third and fourth installments of a series centered on a single protagonist, the eponymous Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Not wanting to miss out on vital information by starting mid-series, I took a step to the left in the Westhampton Free Library, and took out the first novel of the tetralogy, Rabbit, Run (1960).
It’s now one of my “Top 5” books, a “desert island” choice. Having previously only embraced the earlier classics of American fiction like Fitzgerald and Hemingway, I was shocked and, even more so, inspired by way Updike illustrated the unsavory actions of his characters, especially Rabbit himself, with such beautiful and poetic language. I quickly made my way to the sequel, Rabbit Redux (1971) and the remaining two volumes that walked away with Pulitzers (for reasons I could now see quite clearly).

My interest in Updike’s work spread throughout his fiction, and even beyond it, to his poetry. Published sporadically in periodicals like the New Yorker throughout his career, I came to his poetry in a published volume entitled Collected Poems 1953-1993. The book is divided into two sections: the first, larger part contains poems of sophisticated form and subject matter; the second part is referred to as “Light Verse”. I fell in love with many of the shorter offerings found in the second half, and when called upon to write a work for the Fredonia Chamber Singers in the fall of 2004, I chose four of its smaller, wittier offerings. The resulting work was entitled Choral Bagatelles and it was perform on our tour of New York State the following spring, as well as in a few venues during our UK/Scandinavia tour that summer. The choir (of which I was a performing member at the time) enjoyed presenting the work, and the audience seemed to delight in its humorous delivery. Many of my peers and mentors encouraged me to send them to Updike, but I was hesitant. Knowing and worshiping his writing for so long, I had build up this image in my mind of an focused, erudite worker bee charging away at a typewriter all day, having no time for nonsense music sent to him by some cheeky lad in a far-off snowy burg.
But, the encouragement went on, and finally this past October of 2008 I gathered the courage to put together a score and recording of Choral Bagatelles to send his way. The decision was also motivated by serendipitously stumbling on a letter of his, scanned and published on the internet, with his address clearly in sight.
I sent the music with an accompanying letter explaining how fond I was of his writing, and the story of how I had set the poems to music. I said I wasn’t expecting any returns, but if he enjoyed the work and thought it appropriate to grant me text-setting permission, I’d be honored. In the mail my package went, and I said to myself, “well, that’s the end of that”.

Less than a week later, I received an envelope in the mail from J. Updike, Beverly, MA. I was floored! I stood at the mailbox and gingerly opened the envelope so as not to ruin any of his handwritten addressing. Inside, I found my printed letter to him. My original sentence about text setting was underlined, and an arrow drawn out to the margin. In hand-written blue ink, the following:

“I hereby grant permission to Sean Doyle to set these four poems to music. Signed, John Updike.”

It’s now 1 February 2009, almost a week since news came of Updike’s death from lung cancer. I’ll never get the chance I hoped for, to meet John Updike, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. I wanted to tell him in person how much I appreciated his generosity. I can only hope he heard my appreciation in the settings of his poems that I sent his way. Our correspondence was brief, singular, and to him probably one of a pile of letters he got every day from all sorts of folks. I’m sure like me, these folk all enjoy life a little better thanks to the keen observations he shared through fiction, poetry, essay and critique. I could go on for days about how Updike’s work continues to affect and inspire me, and how it probably always will, but as he once said: “People read less; they’re less comfortable with the written word”.

Where I was when I heard Barack Obama had been elected President.

WARNING: This post is operating at a patriotic cheese level of 10.

I flew home Monday for two reasons. First, I needed to visit my grandmother (referred to hereafter as “Nana”) who had taken a nasty spill and is in the hospital healing and doing physical therapy to heal a fractured pelvis and a busted replacement hip (which will need replacing itself soon)*.

I also flew home to vote. After 15 months of campaign saturation, I saw the importance of voting and wanted to do it for real, behind the curtains, with a lever**.

I arrived at JFK airport last evening around 9pm. Results were slowly coming in. It looked good for Senator Obama, but was still too early to call (probably because nobody wanted to jinx the thing!). I sat and watched the electoral numbers start to swell, and as things got better and better, it became time to board the plane. JetBlue has in-flight TVs at every seat, and as we sat waiting for the plane to take off, I still had access to coverage of election results from MSNBC, CNN and FoxNews***.

As our aircraft moved towards takeoff, the TVs were shut off, leaving us traveling viewers at this stage: Obama was in the lead, still more states to be called, west coast polls close in 5 minutes. Plane takes off. About seven minutes of diagonal “zoom” into the night sky. We finally level off at cruising altitude and the seatbelt sign goes off. I pull out my iPod and hit “shuffle”. I’m reclining my seat back as the little TV screen comes on. The ticker on MSNBC reads “Obama Elected President of United States”.

A collective gasp went through the plane, followed by quick bursts of applause and cries of joy. I joined in. It was a great feeling indeed – and then two remarkable coincidences happen.

1. The plane banks to the left and dips its wing downward towards Terra Firma. I look out the window as we fly over a small, greenish beacon in the middle of the darkness that was New York harbor. We were flying over the Statue of Liberty.

2. My iPod on “shuffle” started a song from Steely Dan’s debut album Can’t Buy A Thrill – the song is entitled “Change of the Guard” – I reprint the lyrics and include a link to an mp3.

If you listen you can hear it
It’s the laughter in the street
It’s the motion in the music
And the fire beneath your feet
All the signs are right this time
You don’t have to try so very hard
If you live in this world
You’re feelin’ the change of the guard

All the cowboys and your neighbors
Can you swallow up your pride
Take your guns off if you’re willin’
And you know we’re on your side
If you wanna get thru the years
It’s high time you played your card
If you live in this world
You’re feelin’ the change of the guard

Today is a great day for America. And, perhaps closest to my heart, all signs are pointing to an unprecedented rise in young voter turnout. It appears that, thanks to the motivation of the Illinois senator and his message of hope and change, the apathy among us American youngn’s, previously feared to be epidemic and becoming trademark, is slowly retreating. What this now means is a newfound reality: we have now taken action after a long time of not doing so well enough – and we can never go back.

If you live in this world, today you’re definitely feeling a change of the guard. I felt it at 30,000 feet last night. Can you remember where you were last night when history was made? The right answer is “Yes, we can”.

Steely Dan, “Change of the Guard” from Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972).



* – Nana’s going great.
** – I’m not saying absentee ballots are any less of a vote, they’re just as important and an integral part of the election process. Kudos to all of you who took the initiative to vote absentee if you couldn’t get to your registered polling place.
*** – Yeah, I didn’t watch Fox News at all.

Brief thoughts about Levi Stubbs

Try to imagine in your mind’s ear what it is that defines the numerous subgenres that form what can be collectively considered popular music.  What do you hear inside your head when the terms “punk”, “grunge” or “British Invasion” pop up in everyday conversation?  Personally, I hear (respectively) the swaggering accented snarl of Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer; the rusty, pained croon of Vedder and Cobain, and (it’s obligatory) the Scouser tenors of John, Paul…and preferably, George*.  In other words, I hear the voices – and you may as well.


Let’s try it together:  MOTOWN.  


What did you hear?  There’s no right or wrong answer, of course, but what I heard was a booming, powerhouse baritone – raspy, rough and unruly but an altogether conspicuous presence.  What it lacks in “technique”, it certainly makes up for in sheer emotion.  Phrases packed with lyrics such as “Baby, I need your lovin’” and “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch, you know that I love you” – how can you not believe him?


The “him” is Levi Stubbs – a vocalist we’re all very familiar with.  Don’t think so?  Heard of the Four Tops?  He was their front man.  It’s impossible to credit a single voice with establishing what we refer to now as the “Motown Sound”, but if the choice had to be made, I’d go with Levi.  The sheer power and sincerity in his delivery on some of Motown’s biggest hits – Reach Out (I’ll Be There) and It’s the Same Old Song to name just two – established a vocal tradition that carries on to this day.  Not only was this tradition continued in the hallowed halls of Hitsville, USA’s studios, but even across other planes of pop music from then and now.  The primal bellow of Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant, the emotive yearnings of Bono – despite the differences in musical style, these gentleman, and any frontman/woman who bears their soul unashamedly through their song, owes a debt to Levi Stubbs. 

For you musical theatre fans, he’s also known as the voice of “Audrey II” (yeah, the big man-eating plant” in the film version of Little Shop of Horrors. 

His emotional connection to the words and music crafted by Motown forefathers Holland-Dozier-Holland** provided a gold standard to which anyone who stands at a mic under the lights and thinks they can change the listeners’ minds about love, loss and everything in between.  So next time you find yourself in that position – try to channel some Levi – at the least, it’s a sure-fire way to win a Karaoke contest.  At best, you may change our minds after all.


Levi Stubbs passed away 17 October 2008 at the age of 72. 



* –  Sometimes Ringo. 

** – Another set of names that the public-at-large is, sadly, often unfamiliar with.  Might as well start here.

Lesson 13 Premiere Performance

A video of the recent premiere of a new work for choir entitled Lesson 13.

ETHOS Concert Chorale

Rosch Recital Hall

29 September 2008

…and who’s the bouncing idiot trying to conduct?

for more information on the work, click here.

for more videos of other works from the concert, some conducted by yours truly, click here.

Sinfonia Brevis Movement II

For your listening pleasure…

Coming out of Radio Silence 8.28.08

The Fall 2008 Lineup:

September:  Reading/Recording Some Kid’s Serenade (chamber orchestra); ETHOS Choral Concert (conducting, and new work TBA)

October: Marat/Sade performances (musical director)

November: Finalizing doctoral applications, premiere of Sappho Fragments (soprano and guitar)

December: sending out doctoral apps; premiere of Sinfonia Brevis (symphonic band)

More to come, “see yous” along the way…

Feste Songs (2008)

For your listening pleasure – a recent work written for the Fredonia Chamber Singers.  Words by Shakespeare. Email me if you want a pdf file of the score.  

(laptop users with built-in speakers – grab some headphones, the volume is a bit low on these files)




I.  o mistress mine


II.  come away, death


III.  hey, ho (the wind and the rain)


Comments encouraged and appreciated.