Vegetarianism seeds music success

August 17, 2010

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A passion for vegetarianism has been instrumental in SFU undergrad James O’Callaghan’s evolution into a recognized music composer at age 21.

O’Callaghan says he wouldn’t be pursuing a career in music, never mind enjoying international recognition as an emerging composer, if it hadn’t been for his vegetarian beliefs.

Major orchestras at home and afar are playing the initially self-taught music composer’s first orchestral pieces.

An accomplished visual artist and theatre designer since his early teens, O’Callaghan originally came to the School for the Contemporary Arts to study film. But much to the fifth-year SFU student’s horror, he discovered in his first year that conventional film has an animal-derived gelatinous coating.

“Suddenly my dreams of being a film director were crushed, as I didn’t want to compromise my values as a strict vegetarian,” says the longhaired, soft-spoken O’Callaghan. Working with digital film wouldn’t have been an option for him until his third year at SFU.

But a first year electro-acoustic music course opened up a new artistic world for the composer, who until then had never studied music theory or listened to anything but electronic pop through headphones.

“I instantly fell in love with the sound of electro-acoustic music and that paved the way for my discovery of contemporary avant-garde instrumental music. I am now focused on both equally,” says O’Callaghan, who used computer software to teach himself music notation.

In March 2010, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra played the Langley resident’s first-ever orchestral creation, Work/Werk, a 3½- minute instrumental piece with a percussive section that sounds like machinery.

At the end of April, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra performed O’Callaghan’s second creation, Agoraphobia, an 8½- minute instrumental piece inspired by and created during Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics.

O’Callaghan has used a computer as his music sheet and a mouse as his pen to turn notes from musical instruments into film score compositions for numerous SFU film students.

For a taste O’Callaghan’s compositions, visit:


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