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shane oshea

Interview: Conductor, Musician, Educator, Shane O’Shea

Shane O’Shea has had music coursing through his veins since childhood. From classical, for which he is formally trained, to Jazz to Rock n’ Roll, his life has revolved around his love of music.

A graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, Shane received diplomas in trumpet and piano and an undergraduate degree in Musicology. While at Trinity he conducted the Trinity College Chapel Choir and recorded the group’s first compact disc, Bow Down Thine Ear, to critical acclaim.

After making his mark at Trinity, Shane then received a Master of Music Education Degree from Northwestern University in Chicago, specializing in conducting, before launching a professional career that included singing Bass Lay Vicar Choral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for four years —performing at such heralded venues as Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey— recording with Riverdancer, Michael Flatley, singers Bonnie Tyler and Phil Coulter, virtuoso flutist, James Galway and the Three Irish Tenors.

And while Shane’s professional work is well worthy of note, perhaps his greatest contribution to the music world is his work as an educator. Currently he is the Director of Music for Dulwich College International, overseeing the development of an innovative and creative music program for six schools in the Asian-Pacific region.

His self-designed Democratic Constructivist Approach to music education has gained interest around the world. The idea of his approach to music education is to develop a curriculum based on each student developing their own learning path with creativity at its core, where the teacher becomes a facilitator of ideas rather than a teacher of book-based curriculum.

To further nurture young performers he founded and chairs the International Schools Choral Music Society (ISCMS) and the critically acclaimed Beijing Youth Orchestra in China.

This week Shane O’Shea, along with hordes of international school music students from around the world, are descending on Busan as part of the International Schools Choral Music Society’s annual event which culminates in the Gala Concert on February 23rd at the Busan Cultural Center and is hosted by Busan International Foreign School.

Haps recently had a chance to talk with Shane about, of course, music.

Can you talk about how ISCMS got started? What was the original inspiration and driving force behind establishing this forum for young musicians?

The International Schools Choral Music Society was founded out of a dire need to address the void or vacuum in opportunities offered to our students in performing top class choral repertoire with full sized orchestra. The Asian/Pacific region does not offer our students the same chances as in the West, therefore to address this I founded ISCMS. Our aim is to offer the student a chance to perform top notch choral repertoire in the best concert hall of the host city. The society has gone from small humble beginnings to now having 26 International schools as full time members of the society. From the original aims of this to now offering master classes, seminars, residential world famous pianist, the worlds best music education professors, and more, it has become an innovative and creative music society, offering something for everyone, from student to staff.

How about your own musical journey? When did you start? What was it that drove you to pursue it to a higher level and to eventually make it your career?

I started playing the piano aged 6, trumpet aged 7 and finished my diplomas in my early teens. I have played in everything from Jazz bands to rock bands to orchestras to choirs. I have been driven throughout my career by finding gaps and trying to fill them, I get inspired by the project and potential of what is possible. I am further inspired when I am told that is a silly idea, or that is impossible. It is correct in stating music and creating opportunities for others has become an obsession.

As an accomplished vocalist and music director who has worked years at perfecting your craft and no doubt developed a high set of standards artistically, have their been moments when you witness a young artist performing and just say to yourself ‘Wow, this is kid is incredible.’

This happens all the time, that is where I get my real kicks, watching students develop, grow and mature as people and musicians. Currently I have some students that are on the path to not just enjoying a wonderful music career, but changing and developing what music is all about. I am a strong proponent in the Philosophy of Music, and teach all my students in this area and way of thinking. The winner of the inaugural Jenkins Award for Composition, John Hui, is one of my students, I have students in all the finest music conservatoires around the world, from Berklee College Boston to the Royal Academy of Music in London. None more so than Joseph Hyung Sup Lim, a student of mine in the Academy that is making a huge impact there. Without our students we are nothing.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists in pursuing their talent? Additionally, considering that most of our readers are not ‘young’ (though we all like to think we are), is it often that you see people pursuing a classical music path past their ‘youth?’

Funny you ask this question, as I have been asked to present in the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester this June on a similar area. What is talent? If we believe in the old idea it is only 10%, and hard work and perseverance is 90%, then that is almost self explanatory. The student must be dedicated, focused and driven. They must never perform to impress, but to satisfy an inner desire to feed the habit that is the passion that manifests itself in a sound that eventually defines them. They must seize every opportunity, never be frightened to perform anywhere at anytime, set realistic goals that are achievable, along with more ambitious ones that push oneself into another domain. There are no problems, only challenges. One is never too old to pursue a ‘career’ in music. That career may be to listen to it for pure enjoyment to performing it to composing a simple song. Wherever you get that fix from is special to you, as it is a personal journey no matter what age, and one nobody has the right to knock or criticize.

Having grown up in the Western musical training tradition, can you highlight any differences between East and West that you have seen in your years working in this part of the world?

The West focuses a lot more on the individual, the inner self, trying to kindle the fire of the individual into creativity. Sometimes, creativity is lost in the East in pursuit of technique. Great technique is a waste of time if one cannot hear or understand the music, let alone understand oneself and one’s own musicianship and desire. I like to equate music to Buddhism, finding one’s inner peace, being happy with oneself. Only then can you truly be expressive in music, and indeed understand it.

The ISCMS music festivals started in 2008, so are still relatively new. What are your hopes for the events and the organization in the future?

The Society is growing by the day. We are on a path to offer Professional Development for staff and students on a regular basis, developing an ISCMS style Jazz Festival, resource sharing between member schools, engaging more world famous musicians and practitioners, and indeed Conservatoires. We would love to develop a Junior ISCMS Festival for kids under 12 and so much more. Where there is a void in music and education I can guarantee ISCMS will try and fill it.We hope to work with legendary Christopher Tin (Grammy winner) next year and with the Scratch Ambassadors from Berklee College on maybe the first hip-hop mass for choir, orchestra, rock band, mixing desks, DJ’s and of course soloists! So onwards and upwards for ISCMS.

For more info you can visit the Haps event page here.

There is also an article about the event.

You can visit the ISCMS website at:

Contact information for purchasing tickets: Phone 051-742-3332 / Email:

Photos courtesy of Shane O’Shea



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