New Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras leader cites Disney film as inspiration

·2 min read
Grant O'Brien, music director for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra
Grant O'Brien, music director for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra

A classic Disney film changed Grant O'Brien's life.

O'Brien, the new music director of the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras, didn't particularly care for classical music when he was growing up in Houston. He was a drummer in a rock band that played Rush, White Stripes and Led Zeppelin covers.

Then he saw "Fantasia," the animated 1940 Disney film that uses classical pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.

"'Fantasia' really opened my eyes that orchestral music was something where I could find a place," O'Brien said.

He still listens to hip hop and Bob Dylan and Anderson.Paak, but there is plenty of classical music on his playlist as well.

"Just yesterday, I was listening to Brahms," he said. "I really try to fill my head with all kinds of music."

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Grant O'Brien wants to bring multimedia experience to youth orchestras

O'Brien just completed work for a degree in orchestral conducting at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. He is in his fourth year as artistic director and conductor with the Empire Film and Media Ensemble, which combines live classical music with multimedia presentations.

He said he'd like to bring some of that multimedia experience to the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras, where he will conduct the two top ensembles and oversee conductors Helen Morin, Rose Francis, David Song and John Wieland, who lead the lower groups. More than 200 kids are involved with the program, from beginners to accomplished players.

He's also looking to introduce the students to little-known composers. The repertory orchestra will tackle a piece by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges and the philharmonic orchestra will play William Grant Still's "Serenade."

"I want to instill in them a really grand sense of what music can be," O'Brien said.

O'Brien, a classically trained tuba player who plays a little guitar and piano, takes over as head of the youth orchestras from Daniel Wiley, who has moved on to the Cincinnatti Symphony Orchestra.

He said he feels fortunate to have landed a conducting job right out of school. "To get a job right out of college as an orchestral conductor, it really doesn't happen very often."

While studying in Rochester, O'Brien also conducted the recording sessions for the web series "Star Trek Continues," which was filmed at Neutral Zone Studios in Kingsland, Ga.

The youth orchestras have five concerts on their schedule for the upcoming season, starting with a Fall Concert on Sunday, Nov. 6. The Jacksonville Symphony opens its season Sept. 30-Oct. 1 with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: New Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras inspired by 'Fantasia'