In Loving Remembrance:
(12/6/1951 – 3/4/2016)
By Marie Matson
Brian O’Connor sincerely loved to play his horn. It was his career, his passion and his life. His pure tone and floating high-range were part of his signature sound, and his majestic horn solos in “Star Trek: First Contact” are known and loved across several generations. (In fact, playing recordings of Brian’s “Star Trek” and other solos in the hospital room got him a lot of extra attention!) Brian made a peaceful transition on March 4, 2016, but his feisty spirit and his vast legacy of recorded and live work will be with us forever.
Brian grew up in Albuquerque, NM, and began playing the horn at age 9. His early inspiration came from his first horn teacher and mentor, Paul Tafoya. Then, while Brian was in high school, his mother wrote a letter to Columbia Records asking about lessons with Henry Mancini’s French horn player, Vince DeRosa. Mr. DeRosa replied that in order to teach Brian, the lessons had to be weekly, so Brian flew from ABQ to LAX each week for three years to have his lessons. Brian attended New England Conservatory of Music for three years and then transferred to California Institute of the Arts in order to continue his studies with Mr. DeRosa. Brian later worked alongside Vince in the studios for over 20 years, and the two remained lifelong friends.
Brian began recording in the Hollywood studios in 1974 for film, TV, records, jingles and video games. He played close to 2,800 motion pictures, both as principal horn and section horn. Some examples of his principal and solo horn work can be heard on “Star Trek: First Contact,” “Star Trek: Generations,” “Evan Almighty,” “Crimson Tide,” “Flicka,” “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Bruce Almighty,” “Blade 2,” “The Lion King,” “Jurassic Park 2,” “The Princess Diaries,” “Cats and Dogs,” “Seabiscuit,” “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” and “A League of Their Own.” He also played on such movies as “Jurassic World,” “Titanic,” “Finding Nemo,” “War of the Worlds,” “Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2” and many others. Brian was the principal horn on the TV shows “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “The Young Riders,” “Commander and Chief,” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” He was principal horn of the American Ballet Theater Orchestra in Los Angeles for 11 years and played principal horn for many Broadway shows for over 20 years including “Sweeney Todd” and the original production of “Phantom of the Opera.” He also played for the Academy Awards for many years, as well as for the Emmys, the Grammys and the People’s Choice Awards.
Brian was a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher to his students at UCLA, where he had been Professor of Horn for 11 years, and in his private home studio. “One-hour” lessons were typically several hours long and his students learned about life and the music business, in addition to horn playing. Many of his former students have gone on to have successful careers in performing and teaching.
Brian was very active in union activities and in helping his fellow musicians. He was an AFM and Local 47 member for over 40 years and was an original member of the Recording Musicians Association, Los Angeles, of which he was president for six years.
Brian underwent surgery for his first of three brain tumors in December 2004. After two other hospitals he consulted with painted a grim picture regarding his survival, he met with Dr. Linda Liau at UCLA Medical Center who said, “We take these tumors out all the time. You’ll be fine.” Innovative procedures were devised for a groundbreaking surgery, which included musical tests created by his colleague, David Duke, in conjunction with the surgical team. The musical and cognition tests were administered and developed by Dr. Susan Bookheimer, former concert pianist, professor of psychiatry at UCLA, and a leading-edge researcher in the area of neurological surgeries. She administered all of the tests to Brian while he was wide awake for several hours during a portion of the surgery. This first tumor was benign and Brian was able to return to work five weeks after the surgery! A documentary covering his journey and this unique procedure was broadcast on “Dateline NBC.”
When another tumor was detected nine years later, Dr. Liau recommended surgery ASAP but cautiously allowed a three-month window. Brian postponed his second surgery for the full three months in order to participate in a 2014 recording project with Kevin Kaska that was intensely meaningful for him, the “Hollywood Epic Brass” CD, which was a tribute to Vince DeRosa. Seven hours after finishing his work on the CD, Brian reported to the Reagan Hospital at UCLA for brain surgery! Of course, his first question for Dr. Liau was how soon after surgery could he begin playing his horn!
A third surgery was needed in October 2015. Although Brian had to endure three surgeries in 11 years, he is considered a huge success in the medical world for his longevity. He continually praised Dr. Liau for saving his life for so many years. He was honored in July 2014 with the Tenacious Bravery Award at the UCLA Neurosurgery-Brain Tumor Program’s Golden Portal Awards.
Fly Free, My Love! I know you are flying around in your Cessna 172 (aka “Old Yeller”) and playing your horn again in your new and improved location. You are now free of tumors, surgeries, hospitals, medications and uncertainty. I’ll see you on the other side one day!