@ olagjeilo in a different interview than most. We get a behind-the-scenes peek at one of the choir worlds most recent successful composers.


Episode 033


Ola Gjeilo (pronounced Yay-lo) was born in Norway in 1978 and moved to the United States in 2001 to begin his composition studies at the Juilliard School in New York City. He is currently composer-in-residence with Voces8.

Ola’s concert works are performed all over the world, and his debut recording as a pianist-composer, the lyrical crossover album Stone Rose, was followed by its 2012 sequel, Piano Improvisations. Many of Ola’s choral works are featured on Phoenix Chorale’s bestselling Northern Lights album, which is devoted entirely to his music for choir. All three albums are available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc.

Presently a full-time composer based in New York City, Ola is also very interested in film, and his music often draws inspiration from movies and cinematic music.

For more information, please visit olagjeilo.com or find Ola on Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram and at his YouTube channel.


 The moment you knew you’d dedicate you life to music

Ola notes that he can’t really pinpoint a specific time he decided on a career in music but knows that it was very early in my life. “It was something I always knew I was going to do from when I was a little child,” he explains. Ola started playing piano as soon as he could reach the keys and started improvising very early as well.

He grew up with a dad that played saxophone and parents that played lots of different kinds of music in the house – pop, Beatles, jazz, and more. He was influenced by all the genres.

Ola says his composing started as improvisation and eventually these improvs turned into piano pieces. He always had a good ear and could memorize quite easily so he didn’t learn to read music until age 7. He would dictate pieces to his dad, who would write them down for him.

In 2001, he decided he wanted to pursue composition and chose Juilliard. He was enticed by the school’s reputation and the chance to live in New York City.

Worst musical moment

Ola believes that he had to learn to get out of his own way in order to achieve success. Composition is so personal and subjective, he explains, and it’s okay to break the rules. However, he used to have blocks or get “stuck” fairly often and realized that those breakdowns were caused by thinking too much about what others (teachers, etc.) wanted from him. “It didn’t make me happy to adapt to other people’s wishes for my music,” he explains.

“Even if the audience likes your music but you’re not being true to yourself, then it’s not truly yours, “ Ola adds.

The proudest musical moment

Ola cites the premier of his Sunrise Mass in Oslo in 2008 as one of his proudest moments. It is written in the style that really means a lot to him, inspired by film scores and similar types of music that he loves.

He’s also really proud of his piano albums and the Northern Lights album he did with the Phoenix Chorale.

Your “Forte”

Ola’s forte is quite obviously his gift for composing. In being asked about the inspiration for his compositions, Ola noted that it doesn’t really come to him out of nowhere. Instead, he sits down at the keyboard and starts improvising ideas. That’s what’s true to his background. He records a lot of these ideas and then can go back and “bounce” them into MP3 tracks and listen to them outside his studio. This way, he can form a reaction as a listener. Then he’ll delete ideas as well as choose some for further elaboration. It’s like sculpting, Ola says.

Ola also enjoys working with conductors but prefers being at the piano rather than conducting himself. He often plays for performances of his own choral works.

Most excited about right now

Ola is excited about an upcoming album featuring mostly his choral music and some of his piano works as well. He’s also psyched about a video release on YouTube for his piece Dark Night of the Soul with the Central Washington University Chamber Choir.



Ola’s Twitter Account 

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