A composer for the ages

The legacy of a man considered to be one of the top five most programmed composers—along with Handel, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Mozart—can be found deep within the workings of Butler University’s Lilly Hall.

This composer, teacher and faculty member is music theory and history professor James Mulholland.  Mulholland has worked as a music professor at Butler for 47 years.

Mulholland’s interest in music can be traced back to his childhood in Mississippi.  He said his mother sang and played piano constantly. His father had a love of poetry and words.

“I grew up with a great respect for music, for beautiful poetry and for beautiful prose,” Mulholland said. “I just thought it was something that everyone did.”

Growing up outside of the city, Mulholland said he was a recluse with his parents.  Support from both of his parents resulted in an early talent and aptitude for music and the arts as a whole.

“I started studying piano as early as eight, but I started singing even before I was eight in church,” Mulholland said. “When I would sing, everyone would love my soprano voice, and I loved the attention.”

Mulholland said singing is part of his identity and personality.  He said he uses music as a means of communication.

In addition to piano and vocals, Mulholland said he studied almost all instruments as a student interested in composition during his college years at Louisiana State University.  Piano still remains as his instrument of choice today.

Mulholland said he found inspiration for his musical compositions through his father’s love of poetry, especially poetry by English poets, which he considers to be his heritage.

Mulholland combines love of singing, composition and poetry in his compositions.  He said 90 percent of his compositions are vocal compositions, whether joined by piano or an ensemble.  While he mainly writes vocal compositions, he said he wants to begin writing more pieces for piano.

With commission bookings throughout the year 2014, Mulholland has become one of the most commissioned composers of his generation.  Over his career, he has commissioned more than 600 compositions.

As a full-time professor, Mulholland said it is often difficult to find time to compose. He said he has forced himself to compose at least four hours everyday.

“The one thing that a person that writes has to have is discipline,” Mulholland said. “You are your boss.  You’re your own quality control.”

His work has not gone unrecognized.

Mulholland is the recipient of the Butler University Medal of Distinction, the State of Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash award, the State of Indiana Distinguished Hoosier award, the Louisiana State University School of Music Alumnus of the Year award and the City of Indianapolis Proclamation Distinguished Citizen award.

Students and faculty also recognize the achievements of Mulholland.

Music and fine arts librarian Sheridan Stormes said Mulholland’s work has brought prospective students to Butler.  Prospective students auditioning at Butler often mention a love for his music.

Sophomore marketing and Spanish major Lauren Ezell said she appreciates Mulholland not only as a famous composer but as an outstanding teacher as well.  Ezell is in Mulholland’s music and action class.

“He is a patron of the arts, but he’s still very realistic and down-to-earth,” Ezell said. “The first class we tried to find out more about his fame as a composer, but he was really humble about it and didn’t like talking about himself.”

Even though Ezell isn’t a music major, she said she appreciates the fact that Mulholland understands that he isn’t always teaching students who have an innate passion for music.

“He teaches students by inspiring them to develop an appreciation for music,” Ezell said, “Even if they never appreciated music before.”


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