As Celebrated by
In a Musical lecture at One Day University
Photo Sean JJ1.jpg
Exclusive Interview By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: Sean Hartley

Silicon Valley, CA -- If one mentions the name STEPHEN SONDHEIM to  anyone who is familiar with the Broadway's Musicals in New York City, the first thing that will come into the person's mind won't be his face, but the lyrics or the melody of one of his musicals. Even to this day, STEPHEN SONDHEIM is Broadway.

In his 91 years of life, the American composer and lyricist, who was born on March 22, l930, in New York City, has written the music and lyrics of sixteen full length musicals and the lyrics for the songs of three more. He is prolific.

" One of his many online biographies describes SONDHEIM as "a precocious child with an early musical aptitude." He studied piano and organ, and wrote his first musical while still a student of George School in Bucks county Pennsylvania from where he graduated at the age of 15. A few years later, under the tutelage of musical lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, he started studying how to write lyrics for the musical theatre and music, and wrote several college shows at William College in Williamstown, Massachusetts from where he graduated in l950.

After graduation, he moved to California, where he began his career, writing TV scripts in Hollywood for the TV series Topper, but returned to New York to write the incidental (music likely to occur) for the play The girls of Summer (l956) and shortly after that, made his first mark as a lyricist on Broadway by writing the lyrics of Leonard Bernstein's musical West Side Story. 

And it is with his Sondheim's lyrics of the song Maria, (the musical's most well known song,) and the beginning of Sondheim's career on Broadway, that professor Sean Hartley, who is also the director of Theater@Kaufman, the musical theater division of the Kaufman Music Center in New York City starts his online lecture to honor of Sondheim's Birthday, at One Day University.


Aside from being informative, Hartley's Online one-hour lecture on Stephen Sondheim's life and music, was highly entertaining because it was presented as a Musical production, in as he was telling his online audience bits and pieces of Sondheim's life and discussing his musicals in chronological order, he (Hartley) sang a song, from each one of them in a pleasant-sounding tone of voice, interpreting the lyrics with feeling and pronouncing their words with perfect vocalization.

As we mentioned before, Director Hartley started his lecture relating to his audience that young Sondheim had started his professional life, by writing the lyrics of Maria in West Side Story and continued to discuss A funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, (l962) a musical at which, and for the first time, Sondheim wrote the music and the lyrics. With Hartley singing the Sondheim's songs and them relating incidents related to the productions of Sondheim's musicals, his listeners learned not only about about his life, but about the evolution of the music on his musicals.  His lecture was unique and his audience enjoyed every minute of it.

But we could not expect less from the multi- talented Director Sean Hartley who is also a playwright, a musical composer, a lyricist, and a writer of the musicals Cupid and Psyche which he wrote with composer Jihwan Kim, Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding lyrics. Little Women (Syracuse Stage, Village Theater) Love and Real Estate (which he wrote with composer Sam Davis and Snow for which won the ASCAP Harold Arlen Award for Best New Musical and the lyrics for Prelude to a Kiss, based on Craig Lucas' Play, and music by Daniel Messe. As a writer, Hartley has worked on TV, for the Disney Channel and in works for children,

Following his lecture, Cultural World Bilingual interviewed him by phone from New York City.

C.W.B.  What attracted Sean Hartley to Musical theatre?
S.H.  "My interest in Musical Theatre really began when I was a little boy and I would listen to the records that my parents played, such as My Fair Lady, and Oklahoma. I loved the music, but what I found fascinating was to learn (later) that these music was connected to a story and that I could go into a theatre and see the story. I did not get a chance to see, the stories at the time, but I finally got to see musicals when I was in the fourth (or fifth) grade, and I loved the combination of story and music. I loved their music, but the reason why I preferred musical theatre was because of their stories. I am fond of opera too. In time, I became familiar with the stories in the musicals and once you are familiar with something you start liking it. and in my case, the more I learned about musical theatre, the more I like it."

C.W.B.  What did you do you about it?
S.H.:"I started learning all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, but at the end it was the musicals which kept my interest. So, when I studied in College, I studied acting and directing and play writing and began writing non musical plays. But because there was always something who kept me moving to musical theatre, when I came back to New York I decided to do what I really wanted to do. but I shifted around. (when he writes musicals) Sometimes I write the music and the lyrics, sometimes I write the script and the lyrics and other times I just write the lyrics. Mostly now, I just write the lyrics. And I still love being around musicals, even when they are rehearsed, musicals have been my whole life passion."

C.W.B. "I understand that you also study music"
S.H."Yes, my under-graduate degree is in theatre, as a director, but my Master degree is in Music Education. I also studied composition, privately with a teacher named Charles Turner, who was a student of Samuel Barber (The American composer and pianist who is considered one of the most expressive representatives of the lyric and romantic trends of the 20th Century Classical Music.) I also studied music in another areas and now I teach music using the Dalcroze Method, which is better known in Europe and in Asia. Studying that was part of my Master degree too, and my Dalcroze (Another approach to music training which connects body mind and music, where educators foster music appreciation, ear-training and improvisation away from the desk and away from the intellect using the body and rhythm at its main instrument) teaching degree is sort of a second level accreditation.

C.W.B. Can you tell us something about the theater that you are directing?
S.H.:" I am the Director of the musical theatre for Kaufman Music Center which is the center for the arts, music, dance and theatre, but the theater than we do is mostly musical theater. It started as a Community school for children, in the l950's, but continue growing to the point that we now have two schools, one a community school for children and adults, that is called the Lucy Moses school, but in partnership with New York City schools we have a music school for musical gifted children. It is small school with about fifteen children per grade, but all the children from 1st to 8th grade get free lessons in their particular instrument, attend chorus in a weekly basis and receive a tremendous music education in addition to academics, because it is a regular school which begins in kindergarten and ends in the twelve grade. At the high school level, however, instead of an instrument the children can learn composition, or voice."

C.W.B. And, to end our lecture, Sean, since your Lecture on SONDHEIM was given by you  as a Professor of One Day University, can you tell us something about that Unique institution?
S.H.: "One Day University was the brain child of Steven Schragis in 2006, a very imaginative business man. His original goal was to offer  live lectures (in a one day basis in different subjects) and his idea was to get the best professors among the scholars from all over the country to do their most popular lectures for adults who are interesting in learning about a subject, but are no longer in school. So now you can hear a Lecture for a Yale University professors specialized in different areas. I am his Musical Comedy Specialist.
Those interested in actually watching Director Sean Hartley lecture on SONDHEIM's music, can still register for the course, pay for it  and watch it  online at