Mr. Little’s Very Large Life
The seeds of Little’s dream were actually sown quite simply at the age of 15, while he was watching Tim Burton’s animated feature The Nightmare Before Christmas.
“I was completely swept away by the score of that film, and when I walked out I thought, ‘That’s it. I’m going to be a composer,’” Little recalls. Leaning back in a shaky swivel chair, dressed in unassuming jeans and a slightly wrinkled black military-style shirt, he runs his hands through thick, curly hair, smirking now at the clarity and simplicity of it all. “In an hour and 10 minutes, my life completely changed.”
Little says the film’s odd score, composed by longtime Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, “seeped into my brain and soul,” and for the first time it occurred to the young man from Blairstown, N.J., that he could actually make a living as a composer.
Little had dallied in music before then, occasionally banging on his father’s basement drum set as a child and founding a high school rock band. But they were only dalliances. After hearing Elfman’s score in the dark of that New Jersey theater, however, Little immediately drove to the record store, bought the film’s soundtrack, and hasn’t looked back since.
“The score was this weird, dark, awesome thing,” says Little. “The score that changed everything.”
Having received both music and academic scholarships, Little enrolled at Susquehanna as a music education major in 1998, a concentration he would eventually change to percussion performance after realizing he wouldn’t “starve and die in the streets without a music education degree.”
Little says his peers and professors at the university—all of whom were far more familiar with music theory and classical composition’s rich and varied history—immediately intimidated him. But the angst didn’t last long, and Little went on to spend four years at Susquehanna developing not only his technical understanding of the craft, but also the beginnings of the unique, eclectic style that has come to define his work today.
In addition to his classes, Little performed in several university theatre productions, wrote scores for plays like Macbeth and The Country Wife, and also founded his own ensemble, which eventually produced an avant-garde political music theatre work called The State of Our Union Is …, which was performed at the Degenstein Center Theater.
“The State of Our Union was totally out there, but Susquehanna was such an open place in many ways that I felt like I could do whatever I wanted,” says Little. “And I got encouragement from my professors that I was doing something actually worth doing, which I don’t know that I would have gotten at a bigger school.”