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- 51 Years and Counting: Mulholland Still Makes Sweet Music
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51 Years and Counting: Mulholland Still Makes Sweet Music
By Marc Allan
You might think that having just turned 81, Professor of Music James Mulholland would be in the winter of his career. If so, it’s a mighty busy winter.
During March and early April, Mulholland:
James Mulholland, rehearsing choirs in Carnegie Hall.
- Served a week in residency at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, which culminated with a concert of Mulholland compositions by the various ensembles of the School of Music. While there, he coached the all-male choral ensemble The Singing Statesmen on his latest commission for them, in honor of the group’s 50th anniversary.
- Visited the University of Illinois for the 2016 Intercollegiate Men’s Choral National Seminar. Ten choirs came from all over the country, and Mulholland’s music was featured.
- Attended the Gotham SINGS! Collegiate Choral Showcase at Carnegie Hall, where choirs from four universities performed selections by composers such as Mozart, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, and, yes, Mulholland. He rehearsed the university choirs prior to their performance.
- Hosted students from Iola/Scandinavian High School of Wisconsin, who made a two-day trip to Indianapolis to attend a choral clinic with Mulholland and tour the Butler campus.
- Finished a composition for the combined Indianapolis Children’s Choir and full orchestra to perform at the retirement extravaganza for Choir Founder and longtime Butler Professor Henry Leck.
While doing all this, he only missed one class.
“I’m booked through 2018,” said Mulholland, who is finishing his 51st year of teaching at Butler. “As far as my career artistically and academically, I’m still in demand. And I’m not cheap.”
Mulholland travels frequently to work with choral groups around the country, and he is among the world’s most-performed composers. In his doctoral dissertation examining music selected by high school honor choirs, James Spillane, now Director of Choral Studies at the University of Connecticut, found that the five most-programmed composers are, in order, Handel, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Mulholland, and Mozart.
In 2015, the Southern Chorale at the University of Southern Mississippi, Mulholland’s undergraduate alma mater, released a CD of his compositions called Back Home in Southern Mississippi: The Music of James Quitman Mulholland. The discs features 11 selections in which Mulholland married his music to texts by William Butler Yeats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lord Byron, and others.
Reviewing the CD in The Choral Scholar, the online journal of the National Collegiate Choral Organization, C. Michael Porter, Director of Choral Organizations at Boise State University, wrote: “James Quitman Mulholland’s compositions have garnered a respected position within today’s choral canon. Because of their rich sonorities and expansive melodic lines, Mulholland’s compositions appeal to musicians and audiences of all levels…. Through their moving and impeccable performance, the Southern Chorale demonstrates why Mulholland’s works are synonymous with choral excellence.”
Gregory Fuller, the Director of Choral Activities at Southern Mississippi, said he’s known of Mulholland’s work since he was a high school student in the late 1970s. What makes Mulholland’s music distinctive, Fuller said, is its “lush, romantic sound—lush harmonies and beautiful melody.”
“There are a couple of things that make him a standard-bearer,” he said. “Number one, he’s been at it a long time. He’s written a lot of music that is not only beautiful, but it’s accessible for a lot of different types of groups—school groups, community groups, professional groups, collegiate groups. And one of the reasons I think his music is profound is that you will struggle to find any piece by James Mulholland that does not include substantive text. He chooses great poetry, and he does not waste his time on things that are not profound or have not stood the test of time.”
Mulholland said he’s written the lion’s share of his more than 600 compositions on the piano in his second-floor office in Lilly Hall. He remains enormously proud of his service at Butler, including his 41 years on the Athletic Committee, and notes that next year, one of his students will be the third generation of his family to take one of his classes.
“I’m going to make music until I die,” he said. “And the only thing I enjoy more than making music is sharing it. Where better than you share your knowledge and love of music, the passion of it, than at a university? It’s also nice to have a captive audience. It gives me a fuel for my creativity.”