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How does a composer become a composer? Everyone’s stories are different. For Christopher O’Brien, the path to composition led through choir. O’Brien is an 11th grader at Harvard Westlake School. He’s 17, a poet, and a composer. He says it was Randall Thompson’s setting of the poetry of Robert Frost that initially inspired him to write music.

“When we sang that, it just blew me away and it inspired me to pursue classical composing.”

O’Brien is a member of the prestigious National Children’s Chorus. He says if not for the NCC, he wouldn’t have sung that music by Randall Thompson and he probably wouldn’t have written his own music.

“I think the reason I became so interested in music and composing is definitely hugely attributed to being in the NCC and having the experience to be able to sing a part in the whole of the group. It allowed me to be able to focus on different parts and start thinking in that way and that helped me to become a composer.”


Brian Lauritzen and Christopher O’Brien at the KUSC Studios | Photo by Lisa Bellamore

Now, the ensemble that helped inspire Christopher O’Brien to become a composer is premiering a new work O’Brien has written—both the music and the text.

“The piece is called Flames and I’m sure it was subliminally inspired by seeing smoke in the distance in LA because there have been a lot of fires. When it came to the musical aspect of it, I think the poem itself really inspired the different musical aspects of it and how it progresses as a piece. How it starts serenely and how it progresses to a more destructive tone and then calms back down. I think the poem is reflected really well in the music. There’s a specific moment that I’ve always really liked in my composition: the line in the poem is ‘a flare of maroon and a sea of cool colors.’ So, on ‘a flare,’ it starts piano and then crescendos very quickly to forte on this really beautiful chord. I think that represents what could be a flare of maroon and then it kind of calms down in a sea of cool colors. It’s swimming through the chords and I think it’s reflective of that.”

Flames, music and poetry by 17-year-old composer Christopher O’Brien, receives its world premiere on December 4th at the National Children’s Chorus concert called Solstice, 7:30pm at UCLA’s Royce Hall. O’Brien will be singing in the chorus for the premiere and then at next week’s NCC performance in New York City, he’ll get to take a seat in the audience to hear his new music in concert for the first time.

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