About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes we would rather skim visually instead of listening to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript to episode 012 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.
Episode 012 Transcript
Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast # 12. Gee did I love recording this episode with Paul Holley, such a wonderful warm human being whose passion comes through with everything that he says and does, a choral conductor music educator, we’re so lucky to be able to work with him in Brisbane. In this first part, we get to listen to his brief biography and some of his highlights people influential in his life, and things for which he’s grateful. I think it’s an inspirational episode. So sit back and enjoy a chat with Paul Holley Part 1.
Hello, I would like to welcome Mr. Paul Holley to this episode. Hello, Paul. It is so lovely to be able to chat to you. Even if we weren’t recording it. It’s wonderful to chat to you. Now, I’m going to start by reading your bio, so that those people who haven’t had the pleasure of working with you can get a little bit of a background. Okay, so Paul, Holley, oh, I am, it should be OMG. Okay, no. Oh, Holley is a choral conductor and music educator. His personal warmth and passion for choral music have inspired many singers to discover and develop their skills as choral musicians. And I can say that is true, Paul. That is true.
With over 25 years of teaching experience in schools, and many years of working with instrumentalists and singers. Paul knows how to connect with people of all ages, and enjoys collaborating with them in the music making process. Presently, Paul was the artistic director of voices of purely a community youth and children’s choir organization, based in Brisbane. So he works with a few ensembles there, and they too, are nationally and internationally and win competitions and do recordings and support community events. So pretty busy with Bureau Lee.
He’s also the CO conductor of the National Youth Choir, Gondwana Chorale. In addition to these roles, Paul is a workshop presenter, choral clinician, guest conductor and mentor to young conductors. He was awarded a medal of the Order of Australia in January 2016, for his services to choral music. So I think yay, we all have to have a round of applause. That basically is Paul. So now you’ve listened to that. Is there anything you want to add to your summary of work, Paul?
No, look, I think that’s pretty much it. I was a teacher in the school system for many years, both in state and private schools, and, you know, loved it, the teaching side of, of my job. So, you know, that was very exciting thing that I loved. And of course, standing in front of choirs, I discovered that choir was my instrument of choice when I was studying. And, you know, choir gave me the opportunity to be the musician that I could be because that was the instrument I found. I could connect with the most. So I’ve been doing it ever since then, which is now for a very, very long time.
There’s something about voice, it’s very personal. I’ve known instrumentalists that have come to voice later. And they say it’s a very different experience. Because, of course, a musician who plays an instrument, of course, they’re part of that instrument. But voice, it’s actually within you. It’s a highly personal instrument, isn’t it?
Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Which means that, you know, there is I think myself, there’s a greater element of risk anytime someone sings, because you are you are, it’s harder to control your instrument to a certain extent, you’re not sure what’s coming out. And so many things influence what comes out, you know, the time of day you have, how you are, you know, all of those kinds of things, and whether that’s physical health or mental health or whatever, all of those things can have an impact on what what it is on your instrument and how you present them, you know, so it is quite a quite a risk to take to be willing to put that out there, which is the exciting part of working with singers as well because collectively you you know, that you’re taking a risk every time you work, you know, and that’s the same with any musician, but I do think even heightened for a singer when they are their instrument themselves as well.
Yes, I think so. There’s something about that vulnerability, that opening yourself up to that risk. And that’s what makes the whole thing so powerful. And I think that’s, that’s why call roll work for many of us is such an amazing experience. You know, it’s, it’s uplifting, and it’s great for your mental health, as we know. And you also have done a lot of work with boys, and they changing voices as well. So that sort of time of their life is often emotional and uncertain.
Absolutely. There’s lots of things going on for them that are changing at that point in time as well. And their voice change is just one of those things, that one of those many changes that are going on. And of course, it’s you know, the thing about for the guy is that, I mean, girls experience voice change as well, it’s just that it’s not quite as dramatic. And so it’s, you know, for the guy who’s not sure how to control and has no control over what comes out when he speaks. Or when he sings, you know, that that adds an extra element of, of that unknown and that risk taking, but it’s great fun, I love working with the boys through that change. And the important thing, of course, is about providing an environment where they feel comfortable to be able to just experiment. And that’s, you know, when I’m working with teenage boys, that’s what I always think is one of the most important things to do first, is to create that environment, and then to be able to just experiment and have fun and work out what happens and know that there’s gonna to be thousands, any moments where squeaks will come out, and things will be completely out of control. And, you know, that’s fine. And, you know, the advantage of being in a room of other guys is that they are going through it as well, or they’ve been through it, so they know what it’s about. So, you know, that’s, that’s a good thing.
Having said that, you know, there are certain things that apply just as much, you know, I believe, for any choir, when we were talking just before about the risk, you know, and that vulnerability, that means any choir you work with, you’ve got be a, to be able to create an environment where people are actually taking a risk almost without knowing it, you know, because they actually feel comfortable in the environment that they’re in. And that’s a key part really, because unless we create an environment that they want to work in, and they want to be and that they feel free in the sound, the result will always be restricted, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, you know, the space has to be a space, where they feel comfortable, and willing to, you know, to explore their voice and explore the music that you’re trying to make together.
And that doesn’t matter whether the choir is, in my experience doesn’t matter whether the choir is 5 year olds, or 75 year olds, it’s the same, they just need to have that feel comfortable in the space to be able to go for it, you know, so particularly those who haven’t experienced singing very much, you know, the diehard choral people, you know, they understand it, they get it, and that’s their instrument as well. They love coming into that space. And that’s great. But you know, for people of all ages, it’s about just, you know, creating an environment where everyone can have a go, and, you know, see what we can do together?
Yes, I love that, I hadn’t thought so much about the effect of the quality of sound at the end, I guess. I’m always thinking, especially working with kids in schools, it’s about making them feel comfortable wanting to take that risk, be themselves get the most out of the experience. But of course that affects the sound, doesn’t it? Naturally. And so to the very best sound, as well as to get the very best experience of learning for the children and adults. Yeah, that makes that makes a lot of sense. And you’ve you worked with lots of different groups. So I’m sure you’ve experimented with that over time. And you see, when you get that hesitant group, how the sound is restricted. That’s interesting. You’ve had a very, very varied sort of career, done lots of different things. As a musician, as a conductor, as a music educator, what do you put down as your highlight? Or highlights? If you can’t choose? You’re allowed to have a couple.
Yeah, look, I thought about I just think I can’t think of one particular highlight necessarily. And I guess the highlights for me, are probably going to sound a little bit more general, as opposed to a specific occasion or a specific event. You know, I consider myself I set out when I was in Year 10, I decided that I wanted to be a high school music teacher. And so I was able to do that for many, many years in my life. And in fact, I’m still a teacher, even though I’m not working in the school situation. Now. I’m still a teacher. You know, the highlight for me is being able to do what I set out to do, what I had thought I would do, is what I’m doing, I’m being a teacher, and I’m being a musician, and that so that’s kind of I know, that’s very general, but there’s a lot of people who don’t necessarily get to do in life what they hoped they would be able to do. You know, so, like, for me, I actually get to do what I set out to do, which is great, and they’ve been highlights along the way they’re achieving some some things that that I wouldn’t have thought that were possible at a time you know, and sometimes that’s been the success of a concert or a success in a competition or something like that. But sometimes it’s just been an experience where, you know, because I do workshops a lot, and festivals and things where you’ve got to pull things together. And sometimes you walk into that first rehearsal, and you think, Oh, my gosh, how is this gonna work? Look, I’ve got to do a performance in four hours time. So sometimes I think just getting to those points, where we actually have fun and present something at the end of the day, that’s close to what the composer intended. Those are highlights, you know.
Close to what the composer intended. I like that.
Those kinds of things. You know, one of the highlights for me in more, I guess, in the last 10 years or so of my life has been bringing new pieces of music to life and being able to encourage new composers, or any composers that particularly young composers to experiment with writing for choirs, and to bring a new piece of music to life, I guess, to be involved in that process. I really enjoy that process. That’s great fun for me. And I guess also, you know, again, in a general term, you know, on the whole, I get to work with delightful people. So not only do I get to do what I set out to do, but I get to do it with delightful people, you know, and I guess having that opportunity to do that is what I’m very, they’re highlights for me.
And to know that, you know, I have a hope as a teacher that I’m going to be imparting something that will be of benefit to people in the now and more idealistically in the future as well, you know, and so, I guess for me, one of the, you know, one of the highlight things, and something that I’m very proud of, in a sense, not because of what I’ve done, necessarily, but because of what other people I guess I was receiving an OEM because that meant that people actually had to go to the trouble of creating something to actually put something in, and therefore they had to value it enough that they would support it, and that I’d go in at times, you know what I mean?
So for me, that’s like, because one of the things I set out as a teacher was to be able to influence as I said, both in the now and ideally into the future, as well, you know, how these people engage with music and how it impacts their life. And so for me, that was definitely a highlight because it meant that people had valued that enough, and seen enough value in what I was doing in order to be able to want to recognize me in that way. So you know, so that’s definitely a highlight as well.
It is an absolutely huge accolade, isn’t it. And, like you said, not just for the reasons that you have done, the wonderful things that have almost demanded the recognition, because they’ve been so great. But that people did take that time, and thought that much of you and your work, like that’s amazing. And those ripples that you have made now are going to be felt right into the future. And I think that’s, that’s the thing with teachers, the power that teachers have choral conductors, obviously, teachers, you know, anything, particularly within the music world, what we do will be felt in the future, those children that we have influenced those adults that we have influenced, hopefully, for the better in a positive way, will then pass that on. And that’s a thing, that is a magic thing. And it’s definitely a highlight.
Yeah, definitely, definitely, you know, I’m in the now in the position where I’m actually encountering some kids in workshops that I do, or in my life, it’d be really, or whatever, who are the children of people who were choristers of mine, when they were teenagers, you know? And that kind of that kind of thing is also fantastic, you know, and I now look at some of these young people that I’ve worked with. And I would say, this is another highlight to see how many of those are now educating and how many of them are now music teachers, or choir conductors. Now, it’s not, I can’t claim stability.
Well, you could claim part of it, claim part of it.
Had an influence in helping them make that decision about what they wanted to do with their life. And you know, and that’s exciting to see those people bringing, bringing their their own experiences to life now as conductors or music educators, or whatever it might be, or in other fields, but they’re now encouraging their children to get involved in music as well, because they know what a value was to them as a child to be involved. And so they want their kids to be involved in that kind of vendor have some of those same kinds of experiences that they had when they were younger? So I think that’s a very good sign that something must be right as well. So, so that’s great.
Absolutely. It does. Okay, if I can just take a tiny little tangent, because we know how powerful and wonderful that music education, choral work is. Would you have any advice for those people and it must have happened when you were teaching high school, particularly, when when things don’t seem so rosy? You know, when you know, okay, I know what I’m doing is really valuable. But gee, I’m having trouble with this grade nine kids, or, you know, in your case if it was at high school. Yeah, staying positive and seeing the value of what you do. I don’t know. Do you have any advice for how to keep on that positive path? cuz I’m just, I’m sitting, I’m sitting here thinking me as a music teacher in my school. And I’m like it because I’m in a great position at the moment. But there are still classes, there are still times, I just go, why am I doing this? Have you got any advice, tips, tricks?
Sometimes I had to find myself thinking big picture and particularly when you’ve had that experience, that’s just not been very pleasant right now, or it’s been a couple of classes in a row with that particular group that you know that I have to still think big picture, I have to look for those things that are the positive outcomes. And really, that might not be in that class, might be really hard to see those in that class. Yes, those positive outcomes, or the positive interactions that you’re having.
But I also just, you know, sometimes it would be about finding a way having to find another way, if I was struggling to connect with kids in a classroom or in a choir setting, or whatever it is, how else do I find where do I try and find a connection with those kids to try and make it so that there is some connection with them that we might then be able to use in order to work in our music making setting.
I also, though, was a realist, I guess, to some extent, I know that I’m not gonna get every kid, you know, not every kid is going to love this, and not every kid is gonna to enjoy it in max, you know, I only have to think back to, for me, as a year seven student, my first year of high school in Newcastle, I had to do six months, I had to do an art class, you know, and I had to do my music class and things, you know, and I came, I think it I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like 25th out of 27 in art, you know, like, I was never going to enjoy art, I never I enjoy looking at it, I’d never enjoy, I would never do to draw stuff for fun. You know, that’s like, that’s just not me.
And so I just think, well, that was never art was never for me, going to be the thing that I was gonna to connect with, in the sense of being able to do it, you know, and I really have no interest in learning how to do it, I appreciate it, not on probably a huge scale, but I do appreciate it. And I have certain types of art that I like etc, etc. However, I was never really going to be that into doing it and learning about it.
And so I realized that it’s quite possible, I’ve got grade nine sitting in my class who feel exactly the same about music, they’re there through whatever choice or not choice, depending on how the curriculum is arranged for them, you know, and so there are some that that I’m not going that are not going to grab it, you know, and I don’t have to, A kind of realized for myself, if I take that on board of every kid who’s not necessarily going to really enjoy music, if I take that on board and let that get to me, I’m just going to spend forever going, what am I what can I do? What can I do blah, blah, but you know, it’s all about me what that doesn’t mean, I’m not, you know, I don’t look at it and try and work out that I’m doing the best I can to engage.
But at the same time, there are just some kids who hunker down and get each. And so that happens. And you know, I can influence them as much as I can while I can. But I know that I’m not going to win every battle. And so that’s why I say, you know, think about the big picture. And realize that in that, you know, in that class in that choir, whatever there are going to be some kids who’s you know, who don’t want to be there, and who I might not have the success in reaching, don’t be hard on myself for that. But do whatever I can to connect with them.
Because as a teacher, it’s all about for me, it’s about connection with the people that I’m working with. That’s the kids that I’m working with. In fact, as a teacher doesn’t matter whether they’re kids or not, it doesn’t really matter what age it’s about making a connection with them in some way and being able to, to work with them as a person. And so let’s try and get that connection as best I can.
You know, I had some kids that I made some connections with across my teaching career, I can pretty safely say that their music education was perhaps they ended up in no better place than they started with regard to their music education. But I found that I had at least made a connection with them as people, you know. And that was an important thing for me to be able to focus on knowing that their music education was secondary to that. And as I said, just not beating myself up about the kids who just don’t like it, because there will be those kids. So.
Yes, great advice. Absolutely. Big picture and connection, and a reminder that we’re teaching the child, not the subject. We happen to be teaching the subject, but we’re teaching the child smartly. Yeah. Yeah. Love it. Great advice. Okay, can you tell us about a person or people that have been influential in your life, personal, professional, or both? And I know you’ve worked with some amazing people. So good luck choosing.
Cheat my line out of it. Again, I don’t know that I could say necessarily one person because there’s, you know, so many things, so many people that have had an had an influence and that have kept me on the path or enabled me on the path.
And so I guess there’s quite a few people you know, I mean, I, you know, my parents were both musicians they were and so of course, initially, you know, the reason that I was involved in that I’m involved in music is because I did it so much as a kid, probably the hugest influence on my life is that I had piano lessons from the time I was six. I played brass instruments. I grew up in the Salvation Army, I learned brass instruments. I sang in church, I sang in choirs, I was encouraged to do music at school, you know, all of those kinds of things.
And that was because of my mom and dad. So that was a huge influence. I guess the other things my dad gave me, my dad, one of my dad’s favorite sayings, when I was growing up, or at least one of the things I remember the most was he used to say, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
I love it. Yes!
That’s a huge influence on my life, I have to say it’s a blessing. It’s also a curse at times. Because there are times where I wish I could just go nuts, right? I’ll just be half assed about this, and it’ll be fine. It might make life easier, you know, and I guess so that was something I learned, particularly from my dad and my mom was one was very much a person who was about others first. And so I’d say that’s a huge influence as well on what I do. And this thinking about others first. Now, some would sometimes, perhaps that’s a blessing and a curse as well. Because sometimes that’s perhaps come at the expense of me looking after myself.
But you know, that those those kinds of things being in round such a music environment, and then having parents supports, who encouraged me to do the best I could, but to always be looking out for others, rather than just myself. And what I could gain out of it, that was obviously very important to me, you know, my wife has been a wonderful enabler, because she has wanted me to pursue my goal, whatever that might be at different stages of my life, and did whatever she could to support me, you know, there’s no way I could do what I’ve done without that.
So I guess from, you know, that’s a very influential part of my life as well, you know, to, to have that support has meant that, you know, I’ve been able to follow some dreams and do some things because, you know, in the nature of my job when I was a full time teacher, and then I was doing birtley stuff as well, that that might mean that touring, for example, happened in my holidays, so I was a full time teacher, and then I’d go on holidays, touring, we’ve gone venereal, barely, or whatever, as both, you know.
So all of those kinds of things to have a partner willing to let me do that was also obviously really influential, because those things built me as a musician built me as a person. And so to have that support, obviously, professionally, you know, lots of people, my conducting teacher with John Nixon, he was an amazing musician, gave me so many opportunities inspired me to become a choral conductor. You know, that was fantastic.
I did some work with Rodney Eichenberg. In fact, Rodney Eichenberger, that was one who perhaps, was very in one conversation had quite an influence on me, because I was at a point where I was trying to decide whether or not I was actually going to do this, whether it was worth pursuing or whether I should do something else. After I’d had a couple of hits, I guess. And I was talking to Ronnie and he just said, he said, Look, what you’ve got is you have a talent, it might not have been recognized yet, don’t give up, keep doing it, keep working at it. And, and hopefully that success will come. But don’t give up. You know, that was a very important thing, right at a crucial point in my life, where I was thinking that maybe working with choirs wasn’t my thing.
And as I said, I’d had a couple of hits. And, you know, maybe that was, you know, so I was kind of thinking, maybe it’s time to give this up, you know, so that was great. And then I guess I’ve had, you know, people like Julie Christiansen and Lynn Williams, who’ve had enough faith in me to ask me to join their organizations, you know, to be part of burly, to be part of Gondwana. I mean, those things have been hugely influential, obviously, those people have been hugely influential, because my role being involved in those organizations has given me the chance again, to continue doing what I love to do, and, and the opportunities to explore and expand my horizons.
And you know, so to have people like that, who recognize that this, who obviously thought there was something I was doing right, to get involved with their organizations and to ask me to become involved, you know, and I’m very grateful for those because they’ve provided some amazing opportunities for me through both of those organizations and through those organizations to other things, as well, because being involved with them has enhanced my reputation.
And I guess, as well, there’s no question about that, which has led to me being asked to do other things, then, you know, outside of just those two organizations, you know, and the only reason that someone, you know, might have asked me to do that is because of the work they’ve seen me do with burly, or the work they’ve seen me do with God one or whatever it might be.
So, you know, obviously, those people so yeah, plenty of influences, you know, and as I said, probably, you know, I guess, yeah, not one that I could say, necessarily, that just, you know, was everything. But, you know, across all aspects of my life. There’s those, those people that have contributed and who still do that, you know, they’re still the people encouraging me now to have another go at something rather, tried this out and those kinds of things. So
We’re very grateful to them, because they knew to work with those 1000s of people you’ve worked with, and the ribbons are sent out. So we all think, yeah, all right. We’re up to one of my favorite bits, which is gratitude. But we’ve sort of we’ve touched on gratitude already haven’t wait. Like that’s.
Kind of kind of already in those in because really, there’s, you know, as I said, chance to make music throughout my life, things that I am extremely grateful for, you know, from, from my first days of making music and all the things that that involved through to now still being able to do it. And the chances I’ve been given opportunities to extend myself, you know, those things I’m, I’m extremely grateful for, you know, and interestingly, this is a bit of a weird one, I guess.
But I’m actually very grateful for the jobs I’ve missed out on as well. Because there’s actually a couple of jobs that I applied for when I was a younger conductor, living in Brisbane, and thought that I would, you know, thought I had a pretty good chance of of getting these jobs, it was interesting, because it was a couple of them at the same time. And I applied for them. And I even auditioned for some of them, whatever, and I didn’t get the jobs. And I really questioned myself, you know, as I said, about whether or not this was what I should be doing, you know, because I’ve missed out on these jobs. And I, I wasn’t super confident. But I kind of figured, you know, look at this, this could be the next step.
For me, this would be great. You know, and I missed out on both of those jobs. This is a long time ago now. But interestingly, as a result of missing out on one of those jobs, you know, five months later, I had been invited to go to a burly camp to work with that boys whose voices were changing. And Julie said, I’d like to experiment with, with having a having an ensemble for these boys, you know, whose voices have changed, or what voices are changing. So, you know, kind of, within six months of having had these couple of hits, and thinking that maybe it wasn’t a good thing to do, you know, I was having the opportunity to start the barely blokes.
And I think it’s safe to say that that pathway has taken me down a different pathway than I would have thought. But probably because I missed out on some jobs, had I got those jobs. Free to be the blokes, you know, so so at the time, I’d safe to say I probably wasn’t very grateful at the time. But certainly, in retrospect, you know, I I’m very grateful that I didn’t get them because the opportunities that that presented, and the free time I had meant that I could start working with the burly blokes. And, you know, that led to a whole bunch of things, you know, particularly in those first few years, led to a whole bunch of experiences for me that were amazing.
And, you know, and they were, they were great, great things. So, you know, so sometimes it’s the hits that you have to be grateful for as well, because of what might come out. As I said, you know, I also just get to work with other musicians, you know, and that’s, you know, I’m grateful for that, because there’s an opportunity for great friendship and, and great expansion of my horizons by working with these amazing musicians, whether they are my choristers or instrumentalists, they work whether whether they are my peers, and follow conductors and things like that. Yeah, so it’s interesting.
I love it. I love it. And especially that, yes, grateful for the jobs you didn’t get. That’s amazing. I am a great believer in trying to learn from mistakes. In other words, like you’re gonna fail at something, you may as well turn it into a learning experience. After you get over the the initial Oh, my goodness, I can’t do this. I’m useless. I’m not worth it, etc, then you start learning from it. Yeah. So big believer in that, but I hadn’t actually thought about, yes, those times you’ve not got the job, or things have not gone right. And you’ve gone a different path. We should be grateful for those as well. I love it. Yeah. You are in a fairly rare position, at least here in Australia. And I think it may be different in other countries. But you get to work full time as a choral conductor slash, I mean, I know you do organization and whatever. But basically, you would say your job is full time choir work?
No, I guess so I think because the majority, it’s choir work. It’s not necessarily a full time job standing in front of a choir. So if you feel like I spent way more hours in front of a computer every week than I do in front of a choir, but organizing the stuff or you know, and of course, that’s when it comes to be really, you know, that’s it. There It is an organization that needs you know, and there’s there’s tasks to do that are administrative, I guess, for running that. So. But yeah, I guess to a certain extent, I don’t think that that’s necessarily changed though, just by leaving school because even in my school environment.
I was very fortunate in my last school that I was working in, you know, I was teaching, I was taking choirs I was teaching I was instrumental teacher effectively for voice so I had group voice lessons with my, with my kids as well. And I did the choirs and I was doing really stuff outside of that. So, again, quite a bit of administration, but I guess that was you know, it was a similar kind of thing. I was lucky enough even within a school environment to have been able to create that role, which meant I was largely kind of full time. So but yes, I’d love to say that I spent my life full time standing in front of choirs. That would be fantastic. I would love that job. As I’m sure lots of people would who love working with choirs, yeah, but I guess I’m the closest to that. Yes.
Yes. Okay. I love that. Thank you for joining me for this podcast. Don’t forget that you’ll find the show notes on crescendo.com.au/012. Also, you can find the transcripts there. So you got all of the detail that you need. If you found this podcast useful, I’d really love it if you share the link with a colleague. Remember all I can be is the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. Will meet again, I hope we will. Bye!
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