Musician of the Month: Evin O’Brien | Cassandra Voices

Musician of the Month: Evin O’Brien


I always considered myself a late bloomer when it came to music. Growing up, I didn’t have many opportunities to play instruments, and I chose to focus on art rather than music during my secondary school years. Becoming a better musician seemed like a mysterious journey with no obvious roadmap.

I credit my Dad for introducing me to some incredible artists like Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd & Jethro Tull. In return, I introduced him to the captivating sounds of Radiohead, a band which played a pivotal role in developing my appreciation of interesting chord progressions and ambiguous harmony.

We listened to a lot of music together and aged fourteen my Dad surprised me with my very first guitar – an SX acoustic steel string. I remember eagerly trying to bend those strings in the style of Jimmy Page, with no great success. It would be some years before I would get round to purchasing my first electric guitar.

I struggled as a teenager to envisage my future career. I was less concerned with money, status, or even moral virtue. Instead, I found myself preoccupied with what the day-to-day experience would be like. I would ponder different paths, like the idea of becoming a doctor – helping people, earning a good income, a respectable profession. But then I would wonder, ‘What would the minute-to-minute reality be like?’ Would it involve blood, guts, and smelly feet? High stakes with people’s lives on the line?     

That’s why I find myself where I am today – as a musician and a teacher. I derive immense joy from the everyday moments in my career. It’s not about the grand aspirations; it’s the day-to-day experience that fulfils me. Whether I’m playing music or sharing my knowledge as a teacher, I find deep satisfaction in the present moment.     


Not long after finishing school, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ arranged for solo classical guitar. It instantly captivated me, and I dedicated that entire summer to learning the piece from start to finish. The experience brought me an unparalleled joy – the intricate polyphony, the interplay between the upper and lower voices, and the sublime harmonic movements, all projected from my own instrument! It was a revelation – I had finally found something I could pour hours into.     

I discovered I had a knack for memorizing lengthy pieces, so I embarked on expanding my repertoire. Attending classical guitar recitals at the National Concert Hall became a regular thing, as I aimed to immerse myself in the rich tapestry of the classical guitar world. By the time I enrolled for lessons with Leslie Cassidy at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama in 2013, I had already delved into the works of various composers, including Villa Lobos, Tarrega, Barrios, Koshkin, and Albeniz. This played a pivotal role in shaping my technique and opened my ears to a more contemporary range of harmonies as I explored the guitar repertoire from the romantic period onwards.

My time with Leslie was absolutely crucial to my growth as a musician. I eagerly looked forward to our weekly Saturday morning lessons, where he meticulously reviewed every piece I had learned, correcting my mistakes and helping me break free from bad habits – especially my woeful right hand technique. Though my time with Les lasted only two years, he was an incredibly supportive and motivating mentor and teacher. I miss him dearly, and I often wonder what it would be like to have a conversation with him today, at this stage of my musical journey.

Everything in Its Right Place…     

Regardless of my skill level as a musician, I’ve always been drawn to composing. It just felt right and has always been a natural part of how I absorb new musical ideas. I aim to combine elements that I find appealing in a way that feels satisfying—a blend of the familiar and the unpredictable. There’s a certain joy that comes with seeing a well-developed idea come to life, as if putting something in its rightful place.     

I knew I lacked many of the skills and understanding necessary to compose music at the level I desired. Even though I was already composing for my band BiG Fridge, I wanted a deeper understanding of my own music to better develop and convey my ideas. That’s why I decided to enroll in the Bachelor’s program in Jazz Performance at the Newpark Academy of Music. Despite knowing little to nothing about jazz, I discovered that this foreign musical idiom shared many of the same values that resonated with me.     

Attending Newpark was a humbling experience. I had never before been surrounded by so many individuals who loved and took music as seriously, if not more so, than I did. I met amazing people who possessed qualities I aspired to, and learned a great deal from them, both as individuals and musicians. Tommy Halferty, my teacher, was truly remarkable. He encouraged me to embrace my own strengths and musical voice, always pushing me to work harder and give my best.     

Although I often felt out of my depth, the further I progressed at Newpark, the more I realized that I had ended up exactly where I needed to be. I was exposed to new and exciting forms of music, and I acquired not only the skills and knowledge I sought in harmony, arranging, improvisation, and composition, but also a common language to effectively communicate my ideas with my peers.     

Moreover, the experience gave me a glimpse into the vast realms of what I didn’t yet know. It provided me with the terminology and techniques that empowered me to delve deeper into these subjects even after completing my degree. While at the time, the degree felt all-encompassing, I later realized it was merely scratching the surface of music theory.  

Harmony Takes Centre Stage     

If there’s one quality that takes center stage in my own music, it would be the harmonic content. Reflecting on my own compositions, I’ve discovered that I can learn a great deal about myself and my personal taste through retrospective analysis. This understanding of harmony is crucial for me to achieve that. It’s simply the aspect of music that I find most fascinating and exhilarating.

Much of the music I create is either modal or strives to fully explore the relationship between two loosely related chords. I aim to employ parsimonious voice leading as a means of generating new movements that sound fresh and captivating to my ears.  

After completing college, I set about forming the instrumental ensemble known as Rynx Laneran, with the goal of developing and performing my latest compositions. I joined forces with Andy O’Farrell and Alex Delogu, both of whom I had the good fortune of meeting at Newpark. The music we create is deeply influenced by my admiration for artists like Portishead, as well as renowned film composers such as Bernard Hermann and Lalo Shiffrin. Our sound also takes inspiration from the captivating style of Mulatu Astatke’s music.  

I’m incredibly proud of the music we have crafted together thus far, and I eagerly look forward to returning to live performances this summer. Additionally, we have plans to release more music later in the year, and I couldn’t be more excited about sharing it with our audience.  

Irish Music  

My fascination with traditional Irish music began with a chance encounter at a party where I met guitarist Chris Cole. Chris took me under his wing and introduced me to the fundamentals of his rhythmic approach when playing traditional music on the guitar. He generously shared his insights into arranging tunes for the instrument, and as my repertoire grew, I started creating my own solo guitar arrangements of Irish tunes, drawing on my knowledge of classical technique.

Last year, I received a tremendous validation for my efforts when the Arts Council awarded me the Music Agility Award, enabling me to develop twelve original arrangements of traditional Irish tunes for contemporary Irish classical guitar.  

Currently, I’m exploring how to merge different genres from around the world by applying scales from folkloric music such as Ethiopian music to the Irish tunes I’ve arranged. I’ve recently completed three “Ethiopian Jigs,” as I’m currently referring to them, and they possess a unique quality that is both familiar and exotic. I’m excited to see where this compositional approach will take me next.  

These days, my schedule is busier than ever, and I’m constantly learning and expanding my musical horizons. I consider myself fortunate to have encountered a diverse range of musicians who have allowed me to pursue my various musical interests, no matter how niche they may be. I’ve never wanted to limit myself strictly to classical or jazz music; my love for different genres is vast, and I aspire to play them all.  

In the past year, I’ve arranged numerous classical pieces by some of my favorite composers, which I perform as a duo with bassist Alex Delogu. Additionally, I formed a gypsy jazz quartet called The Tenters with fellow guitarist John Mahon, bassist Dave Mooney, and violist Brendan Lawless, and we regularly perform around Dublin.  

I thoroughly enjoy my role as a session guitarist, collaborating with various artists such as Christian Wethered, Adam Nolan, and Yankari Afrobeat Collective. Each experience adds to my musical journey and presents unique challenges that I embrace as a contributing member.  

As I reflect upon my career as a musician, I feel incredibly lucky to have dedicated myself to the study of the guitar. It may sound unbelievable, but it often feels like every positive thing in my life has either directly or indirectly stemmed from my commitment to this instrument. It serves as my meditation, my hobby, and my livelihood. It’s what motivates me to get out of bed each day. The impact it has had on my life is immeasurable. I’ve discovered an endless game, a never-ending journey that reflects my approach to life, one of constant learning and growth, an outlook that I intend to maintain throughout my life and journey as a musician.

Feature Image: Daniele Idini


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