LUX AETERNA, a new album of choral works from The University of South Dakota Chamber Singers employs the power of music to shed light into the lives of listeners. Under the direction of Dr. David Holdhusen, the elite group of vocalists carefully selected from the university’s student body traverses a variety of musical genres, vocal colors, and historical styles, taking listeners on a spiritual journey through life’s tribulations to ultimate redemption.
Today, David is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about the similarities he finds between conductors and sports coaches, and the empowering mantras he shares with his ensemble before a performance…
What inspires you to perform?
I am inspired by the message and emotion of the music I perform with my choirs. I am always encouraging the singers to share their hearts in performance. I believe that every piece was written for a purpose and every piece has a message for both the performer and the audience. The more we can portray our own personal message, the more the audience can become invested in the performance. It is this connected experience that truly creates the emotional impact.
Who are your musical mentors?
So many of my teachers have influenced who I am as a musician today. From my elementary orchestra director, Gere Pare, to my school choir teachers, Glenyta Hanson, Dione Peterson, and Cathy Britton, I found my passion for music and they instilled in me the will to follow that passion into a career as a music educator. My college directors, Karle Erickson, Greg Aune, Robert Harris, Andre Thomas, and Kevin Fenton all taught me different things about the conducting craft and helped me build my musicianship and further enhance my passion for choral music. There are countless other people who had an impact on my life as a musician. I try to learn what I can from every person who enters my life. This is how you evolve as a person and grow as a musician.
Tell us about your first performance.
This really wasn’t my first performance, but it was definitely my most influential. As a ninth grader I was selected to participate in the ACDA National Jr. High Honor Choir in Louisville KY. Through the course of a few days of rehearsals, the conductor, Sally Herman, molded these voices from all 50 states who had never met each other or sung together into a choir that gave a wonderful performance on the stage of the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Being a part of that and feeling the energy and excitement of the rehearsal process and ultimately the concert, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to bring people together through choral music and create these shared emotional experiences that inspire people.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I think I would probably be a coach of some kind. I have always been inspired by the process people go through to get better at something, and I have always seen myself as someone who would like to lead others through this process. Add that to the fact that I am a huge sports fan and very competitive and that leads very naturally into the coaching field. I think conductors and coaches have a tremendous amount in common, probably more than people think. The ability to inspire, teach, perfect, and perform are all shared traits of these professions.
How do you prepare for a performance?
For me, getting ready for a performance is a very personal endeavor. When I am touring with my choir, I usually spend time talking to my family (wife and two daughters) on the phone while I change into my concert attire. Once I am dressed, I kind of get a game face. I spend some time pacing the rehearsal/warm-up room to both expend energy and focus on the upcoming performance while I wait for the choir to gather. This is really a time I need to be by myself. Once the choir arrives, we always do a little warm-up, sing our pre-concert song, and then I like to share a message with the group to inspire them for the performance. During this, I always ask them to do three things in order to have an outstanding performance. 1. Sing with intelligence. 2. Sing with passion. 3. Sing with heart. Once we have come together as one, we can share our hearts with the audience and inspire all those who hear us.
What advice do you have for young musicians?
Pursue your passion, practice your craft, and perform to inspire, not to impress. The music field is both the most amazing, passionate, inspiring art form and can be a lonely, frustrating, and challenging endeavor. You should always do what you love because you love it, not because you think you should. Young musicians need to always be working to get better at their craft which can sometimes be less than enjoyable, but the fruits of this labor are the inspirational moments you can share with your ensemble or with an audience. The music profession can be a sustainable career, and one I would highly recommend, but there must be a balance between work and play and often it takes a lot more practice and discipline to balance out the highs of a performance. However, if you stick with it, music can take you places you would never imagine.