Sean the Musician

My music career began in 1975 at the age of 7 with piano lessons. In a nutshell… parents made me… hated it… quit after dozen or so lessons.

Later, however, at the much more mature age of 8, while attending Four Corners Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD, I had a second “calling.” At that time, my aunt (Anita) had been playing the alto saxophone in her high school band, and it had captured my imagination. When the entire fourth-grade class was given the option to play a band instrument, I quickly chose the alto saxophone. My parents willingly carted me off the Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center where I became a proud owner of a Bundy student model alto saxophone. I was pretty bad.

In 1977, we moved to Westminster, MD where I continued my less-than-promising alto sax playing career at Westminster Elementary School. I had even managed to sit “second-chair” ahead of two other kids. I was also selected to play in “The Special Recorder Group.”

While attending West Middle School, my commitment to the saxophone was fading, despite my continued love of music. By early in the seventh grade, I recall sitting “fifth chair” out of six saxophones. Then one day, the band director (Mrs. Kay Tippet) asked who would be interested in playing the bassoon in band. I really didn’t know anything about the bassoon, but I looked around and noticed that no one was playing it, so I figured that if I were playing it, I’d be FIRST CHAIR! My hand was the first one up and I got the “job.”

Right away, I took a liking to bassoon, mostly because of the attention it brought. I convinced my parents to let me take private lessons from Carroll County’s premiere bassoon teacher, Norma Hooks. By the end of the seventh grade I auditioned for the All-Carroll County Middle School Band and was accepted as PRINCIPAL BASSOON! I think I was the only one who auditioned, but who cares? I was playing with the big dogs now. Although, I do remember not even being able to play most of my parts.

The next few years I immersed myself in just about every band/bassoon related endeavor I could including:

  • All-Carroll County Middle School Band & Orchestra – 1979 & 1980
  • All State Junior High Band – 1980 & 1981
  • All State Senior High Band & Orchestra – 1982 & 1984
  • County & State Solo Ensemble Festivals – 1980-85
  • MD Center for the Arts Gifted & Talented Program (Goucher College) – 1981-1985

It was at the MD Center for the Arts at Goucher College where I decided that I was would go on to a career in music. Before that, I was thinking of being a dentist, like my old man. I remember to passion I felt in playing different styles of music with a talented group and a charismatic leader (Mr. Clinton Marshall) and I knew that I wanted to capture that sensation for the rest of my life.

High school was a trying time for me. Although I loved sports, I just couldn’t hack it as an athlete. In fact, during my freshman year I suffered a dislocated knee at a high school dance. Really.  Who does that? A couple of try-outs for the school lacrosse team also led to injuries, which pretty much guided me to define myself as a musician. But keep in mind, a bassoon player in high school is NOT cool. He’s a band fag. And this is long before the movie “American Pie” made the phrase “…and one time, at band camp…” infamous.  Needless to say, bassoon playing is not exactly a “chick magnet.” But keep reading, the story ends well. :-)

By my senior year in high school, I had decided to go on to college as a music major despite the bewilderment of many friends & family. I applied and was accepted to several top notch conservatories, but ultimately, I decided on Towson State University (now Towson University) for a number of reasons:

  • I knew the bassoon teacher. I had met Dr. H Gene Griswold a number of times through Norma Hooks
  • They had a noted jazz program
  • I figured I could attend a more prestigious institution for higher level degrees
  • Relatively close to home

My first year as a music major at TSU was a forgetful one. I remember receiving a “D” in Music Theory I, a “C” in Musicianship I, and an “F” (mostly due to absences) in Piano Class I. I did, however, make the observation that the students who appeared to be getting the most of their college experience were distinguishing themselves in both the jazz and classical fields.

By my sophomore year, I began to take my musical studies much more seriously. In addition to really applying myself and excelling on the bassoon, I began studying jazz piano with the great Greg Hatza. I quickly realized that I would not have a career as a world-class jazz pianist, so I began studying Jazz Composition with the great Hank Levy, a direction which came very natural to me.

It was my studies with Hank Levy that opened my eyes to the world of unconventional time signatures and exotic meters. Hank also introduced me to the music of Pat Metheny and Don Ellis. It was the music of Pat Metheny that I would most closely associate my own musical language, and it was the music of Don Ellis I would eventually go on to write my Doctoral Dissertation.

By my senior year, I had won several solo competitions within the department, composed several pieces for the school jazz ensemble. My senior bassoon recital featured a “classical” half and a “jazz” half. The jazz portion of the program featured Chuck Mangione’s Bellavia (dedicated to my parents), Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” and my own composition, “All Five.”

In 1991, I started work on my Masters Degree at The Peabody Institute of Music (part of Johns Hopkins University) here in Baltimore, MD. Although I majored in bassoon, I took many electronic/computer music classes and recording arts & sciences classes. Peabody’s studio was state-of-the art and their instruction was top notch and cutting edge. The hands-on experience I gained during these years became invaluable to the development of my own original music and my development as a tech geek. Also during this same time, I acquired my first personal computer and began accumulating electronic music devices (synthesizers, keyboards, effects, etc.) Click here for my current equipment list.

Also while attending Peabody, I had the opportunity to do a tremendous amount of bassoon playing. In addition to presenting five solo bassoon recitals, I performed as principal bassoonist with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra, Peabody Wind Ensemble, Peabody Camerata, and numerous chamber ensembles. And in 1994, I became the first bassoonist to perform a concerto (Weber Concerto) with the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra. Click here for a complete list of the repertoire that I have performed. My bassoon teachers at Peabody included Linda Harwell, Phillip Kolker.

Most recently, I completed my Doctoral Dissertation, The Exotic Rhythms of Don Ellis in order to complete my Doctor of Musical Arts degree.

As of the most recent refresh of this page (2014), I do very little basson playing any longer. However, I have continue to compose jazz-influenced electronic music. My current approach to music is to attempt to bring together all the elements of my musical experiences and endeavors to create a new musical language and philosophy.

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Top Hobbies & Interests

  • Music
  • Univ. of MD Men's Basketball (Terps)
  • Washington Redskins
  • Washington Wizards
  • Recreational (i.e. Don't-keep-score) Golf
  • Computers
  • Audiophile & Home Theater Equipment
  • Movies -- Just the Good Ones :-)
  • Fine Restaurants
  • Fine Wines
  • Sophisticated Stand-up Comedy

Recommended Books

Recommended Music

  • Pat Metheny Group -- The Way Up

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  • Pat Metheny Group -- Speaking of Now

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  • Pat Metheny -- Orchestrion

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  • Pat Metheny Unity Group -- Kin (<-->)

  • Bobby McFerrin -- VOCAbuLarieS

  • Don Ellis -- Tears of Joy

  • Snarky Puppy -- aka "The Michael League Group"