Slice of Life

This SU professor got to sing for Pope Francis

Courtesy of Syracuse University

Bob Haligan, a professor at Syracuse University, has been writing songs since he was 15 years old. In 2015 he was the only American artist invited to perform for an event surrounding the Pope’s visit in Turin, Italy.

Michael Bolton. Cher. KISS. Billy Joel. Those are just a few people who Bob Halligan Jr. has worked with throughout his music career. But to Halligan, the 13 seconds he spent with Pope Francis was the best 13 seconds music has brought him.

“The greatest moment of my life was meeting him, and I sang for 60,000 people,” Halligan said. “I was scared to death, but it worked out. The mic was working, and all was right with the world.”

In 2015, Halligan was the only American artist invited to perform in Turin, Italy at an event surrounding the Pope’s visit. He performed music by his Celtic pop-rock group Ceili Rain, which he began 21 years ago.

Although he has been writing songs since he was 15 years old, he did not know music was his career path until a month before graduating from Hamilton College.

Forty-two years and more than 1,100 songs later, Halligan continues to write, to sing and play guitar in his band, all the while still teaching at Syracuse University as an adjunct professor in the Setnor School of Music in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

He will be performing at the Oswego Music Hall on Friday as part of “The Hook: Songwriters Concert Series.” This will be Halligan’s second time featured in the series that showcases important riffs or “hooks” in songs and the stories behind them.

Halligan believes songwriting is an “endless creative opportunity” for people to express themselves and tell others something they may not know.

He looks back to the time he worked on the lyrics for Michael Bolton’s song “Forever Eyes.” Bolton understood Halligan’s passion for a certain line, so he decided to put an asterisk next to the lyrics of the song on the jacket clearly presenting the meaning of the line later on.

“Michael vividly taught me that you have to have clarity,” Halligan said. “There has to be a flow and you don’t want to lose your audience because they’re not going to be happy.”

Many of his first musical influences stemmed from The Beatles. He remembers watching them perform for the first time ever on live American television on Feb. 9, 1964. Halligan notes them as “the only group who I ever swallowed whole.” From their music to their images, he was influenced by their takeover of culture.

Halligan currently performs two Beatles-based shows: Beatlemania Stage Show, in which he portrays Paul McCartney, dressed head to toe replicating the Beatle alongside the four others played by other performers; and a one-man show called “Paul the Beatle,” a more personal look into the world of the young Beatle and following him into his late personal career.

The one-man show was created after being asked to perform an hour as McCartney at a local coffee house. He then mixed what he already knew by playing Paul in Beatlemania with a unique view on McCartney as the individual.

Halligan’s favorite part about performing is “when you feel the reaction in the room. … If you have 800 people clapping their heads off and begging for more, it’s a really potent sort of drug.”

That performing “drug” along with his songwriting ability took Halligan to New York City, Nashville and Los Angeles during his music career. After he and his wife eventually moved back to his hometown of Syracuse, SU professor David Rezak reached out asking to him to begin his teaching career at the university.

Halligan started in spring of 2007 in the music and entertainment industries department. He and Rezak worked together to establish a class focused on the revolutionary music of The Beatles.

“I was part of it from the beginning because he would bring me in to play and sing and to get across some of the concepts of music theory and song structure behind what The Beatles did,” Halligan said.

“When he knew he was going to retire, he felt I would be a good person to hand the class off to. Now I am sort of making it my own, but still continuing to work on the blueprint that he took great pains to create.”

On Friday, Halligan looks forward to being in the moment and with the audience. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Oswego Music Hall, and doors open at 7 p.m.

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