Do you want to support a fellow Lawrentian as you do your holiday shopping? We’ve pulled together a gift guide courtesy of those who shared with us products or services they’ve created and have available online. It might be a business they’ve founded or crafts they make or art they’ve created or a book they’ve written.
This list only includes Lawrentians who responded to our ask, and only those who have a web presence, whether it’s their primary money-maker or a side hustle. All links here are active. Happy shopping.
Isabel Dammann ’17, Sprig of That; https://sprigofthat.bandcamp.com … Acoustic folk music, soap, socks, prints, posters, stickers. Sprig of That is an acoustic folk trio with violinist Isabel Dammann ’17, guitarist Ilan Blanck ’17, and tabla player Krissy Bergmark.
Chelsea Wagner ’07, Community Homestead; https://app.barn2door.com/e/QBGP5/all … Wooden puzzles, ceramics, cards, fabrics, rugs, felted figures, paintings, baked goods by adults with and without special needs.
Jeanne Loehnis ’81, Songs for Your Spirit LLC; www.songsforyourspirit.com/purchase-cards … Personal life coaching without the coach. Sturdy 4×6 cards inspire out-of-the-box, magical thinking and deep reflection.
All items on the holiday shopping guide were submitted by third party members of the Lawrence community. The entries are provided for general informational purposes and do not imply endorsement by Lawrence University of the linked site or its contents. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natural and unnatural disasters. World-altering disasters.
He doesn’t wish for them or the pain and destruction they bring. But the Lawrence University professor of history is unapologetically fascinated by them, struck by the physical, cultural, and emotional recalibration that comes in their wake.
By the nature of his chosen profession, Frederick is usually focused on disasters from long ago, exploring how they altered life in the years, decades, even centuries, that followed, how they exposed inequities, and how they reshaped cultural norms. But right now, as we’re living through a global pandemic unlike anything seen in 100 years, it’s tough for even a history scholar like Frederick to keep the focus squarely on the past. When he was teaching his Disasters That Made the Americas class during the last Winter Term, he found conversations quickly shifting to the present as the spread of COVID-19 arrived in the Americas and the panicked hoarding of toilet paper signaled that life as we know it was about to change.
“I think in any class, whether it’s history or English lit or physics, when students see what they’re studying unfolding in the world they’re living in, they always find that very stimulating,” Frederick said.
“At the moment, this group of students is living through a more dramatic historic moment than I think students have in 100 years. There hasn’t been anything like this since the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1919 and 1920. Even the second World War, there was a home front, so you could always be away from where the disaster was happening. But in the case of the pandemic, it’s everywhere.”
It’s not just the pandemic, of course. The wildfires that burned through large chunks of the western United States in recent months, fueled by climate change that is rapidly altering the planet, provide even more fodder for the intersection of historical disasters and modern times.
Disasters That Made the Americas, a 400-level history course that is focused mostly on Latin America, is being offered again in the upcoming Winter Term, and Frederick said the pandemic and the wildfires will certainly be incorporated into the class discussions. How could they not? The current disasters can help inform the study of past disasters, whether illness, climate, war, or otherwise, and perhaps provide some insight into what lies ahead.
“History is interesting in and of itself,” Frederick said. “But I think we can learn a great deal from the modern moment. I wouldn’t dare say what will be the effect of COVID, because historians get very freaked out by the present tense. We need a good 10, 20 years to figure out what the impact will be. But as we look backwards and look at cholera outbreaks, the Spanish influenza outbreak, there is always something contemporary you can refer to in helping them understand the historical point you are talking about.”
Ricardo Jimenez, a senior biology and music performance double major from Barrington, Illinois, was in Frederick’s Winter Term class. He remembers Frederick talking about COVID-19 on one of the first days of class, in early January, two months before it would be declared a global pandemic. There were reports of a few thousand cases in Wuhan, China, and Frederick talked to his students about keeping a close eye on its spread.
In nearly every classroom session to follow, Frederick would start the discussion by giving an update on the virus as more news came out. He tried to contextualize the gravity of the moment and what might lie ahead based on lessons from history.
“We saw it go from a few thousand to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, and then eventually to other countries,” Jimenez said. … “I will never forget the day in which it arrived in the Americas and we had class the next day. Professor Frederick sat us down and said, ‘I don’t think we will be seeing each other next term.’ By this time, Europe was already on lockdowns.
“It was a very sobering moment to hear from a professor of disasters of human civilizations that this event that we were experiencing was a historical moment.”
Up close and personal
Frederick, a member of the History Department faculty since 2006 and co-director for Latin American Studies, comes by his fascination with disasters via experience. He fought forest fires in the 1990s before going to graduate school. The firefighting he did in Mexico piqued his interest in the history of that region, leading him to a Ph.D. from Penn State University with a focus on colonial Latin America.
“I’ve always found the history of fires really interesting and thought I could marry these things together,” Frederick said.
He’s on sabbatical during Fall Term as he works on a book about fires in 18th century Mexico. When the Disasters class returns in January, the students will, among other things, draw parallels between today’s ongoing disasters and those that dot the history of the Americas.
“Human beings care about the same things now that they cared about a thousand years ago,” Frederick said. “But it’s sometimes difficult for students to put themselves in that mindset. But with the kind of things they’re encountering right now, and with us looking at disaster as the focus of the course, we are going to have a lot of good conversations.”
Much of Frederick’s focus is on what comes next. What happens after a disaster alters life in a particular region? What inequities have been exposed? And what responses come from leaders and from the populace?
“To a certain extent, the disasters are the sexy hook that makes it very interesting to engage these moments, but the disasters themselves are isolated moments,” Frederick said. “What really is most compelling about them is the impact that they have.”
History suggests some of that impact is communal, at least in the short term. People—today’s anti-maskers notwithstanding—tend to rally together in times of disaster, trending away from the popular mythology that disasters cause societal breakdowns and lead to anarchy.
“In the wake of disasters, particularly very acute disasters, people tend to come together,” Frederick said. “In a big disaster, the first responders are always the neighbors, the nearest community. The rescue forces are there immediately. So, what you often see, after a big disaster, there is a big moment of community-building. And these things can do a lot, at least in the short term, to bring people together. Even if that’s not a lesson for the future, it debunks every disaster movie out there. In reality, people really do tend to provide a lot of help to their neighbors.”
The lessons of history
For all of our advanced medical technology, our radar systems, our smart phones, and the like, the disasters of 2020 provide a reminder that we are as subject to epic natural threats as humans were in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries—pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes.
“When these things happen, there are very, very familiar consequences that tend to unfold,” Frederick said. “You find that certain parts of society will suffer the most. … What they tend to expose are pre-existing stresses that are in society, the pre-existing shortcomings of a society.”
The United States, for all its advancements, is no different, and the news cycle that is 2020 is making that clear.
“The responses (to disasters) tend to show the same thing,” Frederick said. “Wow, we have this disease coming, and it turns out that in the United States and across the world, health care is really unequally distributed. You might think that can be tolerated up to a point, but disasters tend to push those systems to the fracturing point.”
Lessons can be drawn, for example, from the cholera outbreak in Peru in the 1960s, which led to a reimagining of the country’s medical infrastructure.
“It was not necessarily, how are we going to prepare for the next cholera outbreak, but rather, how does this show us what is wrong with the system that exists now?” Frederick said. “And what it shows is that, disproportionately, poor people, people on the bottom of the socio-economic scale, were getting crushed by this disease. And there was a racial disparity. Indigenous people were getting disproportionately harmed by this disease.”
For Jimenez, learning how that has played out over and over again through history has given him perspective as he and his fellow students navigate the pandemic.
“I think studying past catastrophes helps you learn how events like these tend to unfold, who is really affected by them, and what the aftermath tends to look like,” Jimenez said. “I think the biggest takeaway from the course is really learning that the poorest in our society are those who suffer the most during any catastrophe. They are the most vulnerable but also the ones who are forgotten.”
These lessons from the past can inform the present. And vice versa. It’s what drew Frederick, the one-time firefighter, to the classroom in the first place.
“You can get a sense of relief and comfort from history,” Frederick said. “When you look at a disaster like COVID, you see that the world has gone through things like this before and we got out to the other side. It can be an awful process, and I promise this is going to get much worse before it gets better, but people have managed to get through this sort of thing and worse. Every single time, humanity has come out on the other side.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: email@example.com
Interested is readings from the Disasters class?
If Jake Frederick’s Disasters in the Americas class has piqued your interest and you want to read more, try these books that are part of the class:
The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, by Jonathan Katz; New York: St. Martins Griffin, 2013. This book is about the 2010 earthquake.
A Paradise Built in Hell, by Rebecca Solnit; New York: Viking, 2009. The thesis of the book is that in times of urgent disaster people have a greater tendency to pull together than to turn on each other.
Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Niño and the Fate of Civilizations, by Brian Fagan; New York: Basic Books, 1999. See chapters on the classic Maya collapse and the destruction of the Moche civilization.
Like other Lawrence students, Awa Badiane ’21 and Isabella Mariani ’21 are navigating Fall Term amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Awa is doing so on campus in Appleton. Isabella is doing so remotely, having spent part of the term accessing classes while working on an organic farm in Hawaii before returning home to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, in early November. The two Communications Fellows talked to each other about their respective student experiences.
Story by Awa Badiane ’21 and Isabella Mariani ’21
Isabella: Hey, Awa, I’ve been seeing friends posting on social media about life on campus right now. How’s that going for you?
Awa: Hey, Isabella! I can truthfully say it’s not like any other year I’ve had here at Lawrence, but I’m glad I can be closer to my friends. What’s it been like taking classes remotely?
Isabella: The first thing that comes to mind is how hard it is to stay motivated. One of the biggest roadblocks to remote learning, I think, is losing motivation. There’s no right or wrong way to motivate yourself; it comes down to what works for you as an individual.
Awa: I hear that. I remember during Spring Term when most students were off campus and all my classes were online. I would be up until about 6 a.m. trying to read before class because that was the only time motivation struck. Maybe it was something about watching the sunrise after spending all night on TikTok that gave me the real push I needed.
Isabella: I love that. Maybe it comes down to dedicating that period of time when you put yourself in an academic mindset.
Awa: How about staying organized? Have you been able to do that?
Isabella: This is another big one for me. I’ve found myself losing track of dates and deadlines when taking classes. That’s pretty natural, since no one else is around to hold me accountable for making it to class or turning things in on time. Honestly, writing in my planner every day is really the only thing keeping me on track with school. It might surprise you how much making lists can boost your confidence and productivity.
Awa: I still find myself losing track of dates and deadlines, even on campus. I’m glad you have found a way that works for you in keeping track of assignments as they are coming up. Having two in-person classes and my third class being synchronous on Zoom has definitely helped. I am able to create a schedule around my classes.
Isabella: Yeah, I guess it’s comforting to know people struggle with this on campus, too. You’re lucky to have those class times that you can work around. Being on the farm or at home, it’s also been helpful to have a space where I keep all my school stuff. Just to create a “class space” where everything is kept in order.
Awa: Have you felt connected to campus when you are so far away?
Isabella: Connecting to people and resources on campus definitely feels harder being remote. While Lawrence has lots of connective resources on campus, it’s easy to feel distant from that when you are at home. I just remind myself that I’m only an email away from the CAS staff, and you also can schedule Wellness Center telehealth appointments for counseling or health issues if you’re not on campus. And staying in touch with professors has been really helpful.
Awa: I hope you’re not having FOMO about life on campus! It’s still pretty hard to see people here. We all want to stay safe, so seeing friends you don’t live with has been a challenge.
Isabella: I do sometimes get FOMO seeing some of my friends posting on Instagram from campus. But as you say, it might be more painful if I was there and couldn’t spend time around them if they weren’t in my pod. Are you still in regular contact with your professors? Does being on campus make that different for you?
Awa: I would say getting to see my professors in person is one of the biggest benefits from being on campus. I have two classes in person, so I get to ask any question I may have there, rather than waiting for an email.
Isabella: How about developing a routine? That’s been another big one for me. It’s been one of the hardest things. Remote learning is full of distractions, and it can feel impossible for me to make time to get things done. At home, I’m so distracted by my dogs, and suddenly deciding to rearrange my room. That’s why I think creating your own routine is key when you’re remote. Again, I don’t think there’s a formula you have to follow for this. It’s just about knowing what works for you personally.
Awa: That’s true. I think the same works for being on campus. Sometimes I get jealous of my friends who only have class online because they don’t have to leave their rooms, but I’ve found little things I can do before class like grabbing lunch to get me excited. And I also remember how I would be up until 6 a.m. when my classes were online and I thank myself for making the best decision for me. Do you think being off campus is working for you?
Isabella: Ultimately, I think it was the best decision for me. I know plenty of people are making it work on campus right now, but I don’t think I could properly enjoy my time there right now. I’m glad you mentioned using lunch to get yourself ready for class. Building routines around mealtimes is definitely helpful, which reminds me of something I’m really curious about. Do you think your sleeping habits/routines are different on campus?
Awa: Surprisingly, it has been better. My sleeping schedule during Spring Term in quarantine was all over the place, probably because of all the late-night snacks. But here I know I have to get up and get ready for class, so I try to make sure I get enough sleep to do that.
Isabella: Finding personal time also is really big for me. When all is said and done, you’re still a person with needs before you’re a student. It’s crucial to find a balance between your academic responsibilities and your personal life, especially when those two become intertwined. Just because you’re not in an academic environment doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a nap on your couch or watch movies.
Awa: I completely agree with you. Even though two of my classes are in person, I still find myself on Zoom calls quite often. From LUCC meetings, to committee meetings, to meetings with administration, etc., I am on Zoom A LOT. But I have found in between the many Zoom meetings, stepping away from my computer and phone and just going for a walk or curling my hair to be very relaxing.
Isabella: Wow, I always forget how busy you are. You must actually be an expert at knowing when you need personal time.
Awa: It’s been great catching up.
Isabella: This has been interesting because I expected that students on campus wouldn’t be having the same problems as me. I even thought that students on campus were simply having an easier go of things because they’re physically at Lawrence. But that’s not always the case.
Awa: Yeah, we are living in very interesting times. It’s been an adjustment for all of us. It helps that we are all going through it together.
Awa Badiane ’21 and Isabella Mariani ’21 are student writers in the Communications office.
Ongoing sustainability efforts on campus have landed Lawrence University on a listing of the nation’s most environmentally responsible colleges.
The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges: 2021 Edition, released in late October, includes Lawrence among the 416 schools being highlighted for strong “sustainability-related policies, practices, and programs.”
Being chosen sends an important message to all Lawrentians, as well as prospective students, about Lawrence’s priorities, said Grace Subat, the university’s sustainability and special projects fellow.
“Sustainability is the future of everything,” she said. “We know the environmental crisis is just getting worse every day, and I think prospective students seeing that Lawrence is committed to and taking action on trying to combat that on our campus is really, really important.”
Lawrence’s Presidential Committee on Sustainability oversees efforts to instill a culture of sustainable long-range planning, working with student organizations and other departments across campus to develop and implement programs and practices that enhance good environmental stewardship. Projects such as the student-run Sustainable Lawrence University Garden (SLUG), partnerships with Bon Appétit, recycling efforts, and research on bees and other pollinators have highlighted some of that work.
To learn more about Lawrence’s sustainability efforts, see here.
Lawrence recently contracted with Johnson Controls on a $5.5 million upgrade of lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment to lower the campus’ utility consumption and reduce its carbon footprint. The ongoing project, which started this summer amid COVID-19 safety protocols, includes the installation of LED lighting in 17 buildings on campus, the replacement of chillers that serve the Music-Drama Center, Shattuck Hall, and Memorial Chapel, the replacement of inefficient steam traps campus wide, and upgrades to mechanical and fume hood systems in Steitz and Youngchild halls.
“No one is forcing us to put these measures in place,” Subat said of the sustainability-focused work. “We’re taking accountability for it and doing it ourselves. I think that is important to all Lawrentians and is going to draw prospective students who care about those issues. They know because they’ve grown up hearing all of the facts about climate change and what needs to be done.”
The Princeton Review, an education services company, has put out the Green Colleges guide each of the past 10 years, and Lawrence has consistently been on the list. Lawrence also landed on the Princeton Review’s 2021 guide to the Best 386 Colleges earlier this year, and it placed No. 3 in the ranking of Best Impact Schools in the country.
“Each and every one of the outstanding colleges in this edition of our guide offers both excellent academics and exemplary evidence of environmental commitment,” said Rob Franek, The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief.
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawrence University is mourning the loss of Dr. John Mielke, an iconic leader and philanthropist in the Fox Valley whose passion for education and health care has left a lasting impact on the community.
Mielke died Nov. 4 at the age of 87.
The cardiologist’s incredible life included improving health care across the region, serving on the Appleton Area School District Board of Education for 26 years, and, with his wife, Sally, partnering on multiple health and education initiatives aimed at leveling the playing field for all residents. A number of those partnerships, via the Mielke Family Foundation, involved Lawrence, including establishing two endowed professorships, launching the Mielke Summer Institute in the Liberal Arts at Bjorklunden, and, in 2014, providing a multi-million-dollar gift that broadened opportunities for education students interested in teaching in elementary schools.
“The hundreds of Lawrence graduates both past and future who become educational leaders are a testament to John’s passion for learning, community, and educational access for all,” Lawrence President Mark Burstein said. “I will deeply miss John’s counsel and friendship.”
That was a game-changer for the program, said Stewart Purkey, director of teacher education at Lawrence and holder of the Bee Connell Mielke Professorship of Education, established 25 years ago. But it was just one piece of Mielke’s work to improve education at all levels, most pointedly for the youngest of students.
Purkey referenced Mielke’s work with the Building for Kids Children’s Museum, the Early Childhood Learning Center, and the development of Pre-K programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.
“John was prescient in his commitment to working with early childhood education and recognizing the incredible importance of helping young children learn and grow,” Purkey said. “He pushed over and over again for us to focus as much as we could on the education of the youngest children so they had that really strong foundation. Now, that’s sort of accepted and it’s a given that we have to work with pre-K 3 and pre-K 4-aged children. John was championing that years and years before it reached mainstream thinking.”
Purkey said that while he is saddened by the loss of a friend and mentor, he is buoyed that Sally Mielke will continue the work that she and John have been so devoted to through the years.
“It’s important to note, when we think about John, it was always John and Sally together, and, of course, Sally is still with us,” Purkey said. “I know she will continue John’s good work in the community, including how she’s involved with the teacher ed program here at Lawrence.”
Jenna Stone, Lawrence’s associate vice president of finance, has worked often with the Mielkes and called the loss of John Mielke monumental for the Fox Cities.
“John and Sally Mielke have been an extraordinary force for compassion, caring, health, and education in our community,” Stone said.
Until his death, John Mielke served on the board of the Mielke Family Foundation, one of the most active philanthropic foundations in northeast Wisconsin. It serves residents in both the Appleton and Shawano areas.
In 2010, the foundation was the recipient of Lawrence’s first Collaboration in Action award. It spoke to the long relationship between the university and the foundation, dating back to 1982 when the foundation established the Edward F. Mielke Professorship in Medicine, Health, and Society, currently held by Brenda Jenike.
In 1996, the foundation established the Bee Connell Mielke Professorship in Education. In conjunction, the foundation established a community outreach program called the Mielke Summer Institute in the Liberal Arts, which provides local educators with an opportunity to examine a specific theme of cultural or social significance from a multidisciplinary perspective, held at Bjorklunden, Lawrence’s northern campus in Door County. Purkey said more than 1,200 educators have since gone through the institute.
“John’s passing will be mourned by so many, but he leaves a remarkable legacy in the people and organizations he touched and made better,” Stone said. “He was relentless in chasing problems upstream to find root causes.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: email@example.com
John Holiday found a home three years ago with the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in Appleton. (Photo by Danny Damiani)
Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications
As contestants on NBC’s The Voice scrambled to pull together family and friends for virtual watch parties on the show’s opening night, John Holiday had other ideas.
The voice professor in Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music knew he was about to catch lightning in a bottle. He knew the coaches’ response to his performance of Misty was off the charts, and he knew there was a pretty good chance his world was about to explode. He also knew with whom he wanted to share that moment—his students.
So, as Holiday watched from his Appleton home as John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, and Gwen Stefani all turned their chairs and showered his performance with such overwhelming praise that he became the show’s immediate favorite, 10 of his students, connected by Zoom, hooted and hollered along with him and his husband, Paul, and their two house guests, Brian Pertl and Leila Ramagopal Pertl. They screamed when Legend called Holiday’s voice “otherworldly,” and again when a surprised Clarkson dropped the “I didn’t know you were a dude” line.
“One of the things I wanted to do in doing this show is to show my students what’s possible when you stretch yourself beyond what you think is possible,” said Holiday, an associate professor of music who has been on the Lawrence faculty since 2017. “There are people who dare to dream bigger than themselves; they never stop learning, never stop growing. I wanted to show my students what that looked like.”
In the more than two weeks since his audition aired, much has changed in Holiday’s universe, even though he, like most of us, remains mostly homebound in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He continues to teach during Lawrence’s Fall Term, but he’s doing so while juggling multiple media requests and a growing social media presence. His path as part of Team Legend, under the guidance of the iconic singer, is still very much a secret, but viewers will begin to see it unfold as the battle rounds begin in the coming days. The show airs Mondays and Tuesdays.
On campus, Holiday has become the frequent focus of conversation, a welcome respite amid the frustrations of a year dominated by COVID-19. In the Conservatory offices and halls, faculty and students have been leading the cheers. Alumni have been reaching out. Even other music schools have been calling with congratulations.
“There is a definite buzz around John’s performance,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. “Everyone is so excited that the rest of the world is hearing this remarkable voice.”
Holiday, a countertenor with the ability to hit the highest notes, made it to the televised blind auditions in front of the coaches—Clarkson, Legend, Stefani, and Blake Shelton—after being selected from among thousands of hopefuls who went through the open-call audition process. He said he opted to enter the TV fray in part because his busy performance schedule, mostly on opera stages, came to an abrupt stop when the pandemic shut down performances around the world.
The reaction was immediate
Holiday’s phone blew up as soon as his audition aired on Oct. 19. A clip from the show featuring his performance quickly drew more than 500,000 views, and posts on various media sites piled on the praise and dubbed him the favorite to win it all.
Success isn’t necessarily new to Holiday. He has performed on some of the biggest stages in the world, and in 2017 received the Marian Anderson Vocal Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington National Opera, given to a rising star in the area of opera, oratorio, or recital repertory. He knows his way around applause. But this reaction was different.
“My social media has gone kind of bonkers,” Holiday said. “And that is absolutely something I was not expecting. I didn’t know people were going to receive it that way. In general, I’m a person who doesn’t read reviews. I think even if they’re great, sometimes it can get to a person’s head, and if the reviews are bad, they can make you feel bad. So, I tend to be a person who, generally, if I feel good about what I’ve done, I won’t read anything. I just kind of sit in the moment and reflect on what I felt was good and what I felt needed some work. But from the moment this came on, it was kind of hard to not see the things that were going on.”
Hannah Jones ’22, a voice student from Houston who came to Lawrence in large part because she wanted to work with Holiday, was on that Zoom call, watching with classmates through the two-hour episode in hopes of seeing the man they affectionately call Prof. For an hour and 50 minutes, there was nothing. Until they saw the boots.
“As soon as we heard and saw Prof’s heeled boots, every single square erupted,” Jones said.
The only shriek that was louder came from Holiday himself.
“The one thing that truly made this moment special is the fact that Prof shared this huge moment in his journey with us,” Jones said. “He could have easily shared this unforgettable moment with his close family and friends, but he chose us.”
Building to this moment
That journey Jones speaks of is one that’s been building for Holiday. What heights he reaches via The Voice, and what doors they open, have yet to be revealed. But the transition from rising opera star to a performer who lives in a more mainstream music world is one that’s very much deliberate. Holiday has frequently dabbled in jazz and gospel genres, and he said he’s long felt the urge to wade into more pop-focused opportunities. The pandemic shut-down and the arrival of a new season of The Voice provided the perfect storm.
“There are a lot of people who feel like opera is elitist,” Holiday said. “As an opera singer, I can understand that. But I also believe that it is not elitist. Opera is music that makes you feel things, the same way that Nicki Minaj might make people feel, the same way Smokey Robinson might make someone feel, the same way that Coldplay might make someone feel. Opera has that same ability. So, for me, the reason I also want to cross over is because I’ve always longed to be the bridge between opera and jazz and pop and gospel music.”
The 35-year-old Holiday grew up in Rosenberg, Texas, learning to play the piano and singing in his church choir, all with enthusiastic encouragement from his beloved grandmother, who he calls Big Momma. He would later join the Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas, giving him his first introduction to classical music.
He held tight to family as he grew up amid frequent bullying. His high voice, now embraced, was often the source of ridicule from others, he said. He was harassed for being gay long before he knew in his heart that he is gay.
“I’m lucky to have my grandmother, Big Momma, in my life,” Holiday said. “She has been my biggest cheerleader.”
She was among the first to tell him that his voice was a gift, not a curse.
He went on to earn a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from Southern Methodist University, a Master of Music in vocal performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and an artist diploma in opera studies from Juilliard School.
He has since performed in operas—in four languages—at some of the most iconic venues in the world, from the Glimmerglass Festival to Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center. He’s performed with the Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Phoenix Symphony, among others.
About the time he was awarded the coveted Marian Anderson Vocal Award three years ago, the Washington Post called him “an impressive figure on an opera stage” and the New York Times hailed him as “an exceptional singer with a strong voice, even in its highest range.”
His left turn onto The Voice stage and into more mainstream circles isn’t out of character. He’s not running away from opera, he said. He’s simply drawing new fans to his journey.
“For me, I want to be able to change the narrative across the board and make opera more accessible,” he said. “Also make jazz more accessible because there are people who think jazz is far from opera, but it’s actually not. It’s very close to it.”
Holiday grew up singing gospel music and “hearing all the oldies and goodies.” Opera wasn’t something his family was initially drawn to. It wasn’t until he joined the boys’ choir that he gave much thought to classical music.
“It’s not something that was part of our fabric growing up,” he said.
Now, as he reaches his mid-30s and ponders new challenges, Holiday is looking toward those other musical influences. He understands that the ability to excel across the musical spectrum is a challenge with a high bar. He doesn’t want to shy away from it.
“I know that I am more than one-dimensional,” he said. “I feel like boxes are the death of art. … I want to go outside of the boxes in how people perceive the way I should sing. … For me, just singing opera, it would be inauthentic to who I am. I love opera in every fiber of my being. But I am also more than an opera singer. I am more than jazz. I am more than gospel. I am more than pop. Music is just a part of me. And I want to be able to give that in every single way that I can.”
Landing at Lawrence
When Lawrence’s Conservatory had an opening in its voice department in 2017, Holiday was immediately intrigued. He had worked a number of times with Lawrence alumni in his opera and symphonic performances. He knew the school’s strong reputation was legit. And he had gotten a taste of teaching while working with the Ithaca College School of Music.
A chance to teach at Lawrence while still juggling a busy performance schedule was the dream, Holiday said.
It didn’t take long, Pertl said, for that interest to be mutual.
“John’s material immediately stood out,” he said. “The video samples he submitted were stunning, so we were very excited about his application. When he came to campus, he sealed the deal. His live recital was so moving that most of us in the audience were in tears, and the wisdom, connection, and compassion he demonstrated in his teaching made him the perfect fit.”
Three years later, Holiday continues to mesh seamlessly within the talent-filled Conservatory. From the start, he was often on the road due to his performance schedule, but he quickly grew adept at doing voice lessons remotely, connecting with students from back stages or studio locations or hotel rooms. It’s a skill set that other faculty members tapped into in the spring when the pandemic sent students home for Spring Term and all classes and lessons went remote.
Holiday also serves as a de facto recruiter for the Conservatory while on the road, visiting high schools, particularly those that cater to the arts, whenever he can.
Jones, the third-year Lawrence student from Houston, said she first considered Lawrence after meeting Holiday her senior year when he visited her Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
“He came to my school to do a masterclass with some of the students,” Jones said. “At the end of the masterclass, Prof sat down at the piano and sang a Negro spiritual, Over My Head, I Hear Music in the Air. I went up to him after the masterclass ended to express how amazed I was, and then he started speaking life into me and dismantling the unspoken doubts I had in my mind at the time. I remember bawling in the restroom and making the decision to go wherever Prof was. Prof is the reason why I am at Lawrence.”
Holiday doesn’t take those words lightly. It’s building that connection with students, making them understand what’s possible, making them believe in themselves, that gives him his greatest joy, he said. Allowing them to now see him being coached while competing on The Voice is one more piece to that puzzle. The teacher has become the student.
“I am not a coach, I am a teacher,” Holiday said. “And a teacher is someone who is teaching the science of the vocal anatomy. … How to breathe, how to stand, what it means to have good posture, what it means to have good vocal health, and how to navigate the complexities of the vocal apparatus. It is the most amazing gift to be a teacher and to inspire others to be the best of themselves and discover who they are meant to be in the world.
“And what is really beautiful to me is now being able to be in a position to show my students what it looks like for me to be taught and coached on the biggest of levels.”
Jones said she and other students are well aware that they have to share Holiday with the world. That’s always been the case, his performance demands being what they are. It may be even more so now that The Voice is introducing him to a wider audience.
“There have been a few times where we have had to remind Prof to not spread himself too thin,” Jones said. “But Prof’s ability to teach never wavers. We were having Zoom lessons long before the pandemic. … He pushes us to be better versions of ourselves. ‘You are your own competition’ is one of Prof’s signature quotes, and it’s a quote that has changed my life.”
Embracing what’s ahead
Now comes the next step on The Voice, a show that in its 19th season still draws an audience of nearly 8 million viewers. The coaches have established their teams. The battle rounds are set to begin.
For obvious reasons, Holiday can’t reveal what’s ahead. But he can say the experience of working with Legend was spectacular, and the opportunity to get to know and work with the other contestants was a beautiful experience.
He was in Hollywood filming the show earlier this fall, connecting with his students for lessons but unable to reveal where he was or what he was doing.
“I haven’t missed a step,” Holiday said. “All of my students have gotten all of their lessons, and I’ve just enjoyed it. They didn’t know what was going on, and, of course, I couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t tell anyone. My students are used to it. They’re used to me being on the road and teaching from the hotel or teaching from the studio where I’m at. I was teaching from the hotel room where I was staying in Los Angeles. That was an experience in itself, to be experiencing all these wonderful things and then also be teaching my students.”
Now, as the show progresses, he hopes his students will enjoy what they’re seeing—his commitment to the work and the music, even amid obstacles and challenges, his enduring love for Texas and his family, his attachment to Lawrence and his adopted home in Wisconsin, and his never-compromising eye for fashion. And he hopes other viewers looking on, 8 million strong, will share in the joy. After all, this is supposed to be fun.
“We’re living in such a time that can be devoid of hope and joy and peace, and I want to be able to give that with my music in every way,” Holiday said. “I don’t know if I succeed with that but I think that people who really connected with me can feel that. That’s my biggest hope and my biggest prayer.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adona Lauriano ’21 made it four for four for Lawrence University students finishing in the money in The Pitch, an annual intercollegiate entrepreneurial competition.
The government major from New York took third place, winning $5,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind services toward her start-up business venture. Lawrence students have now finished in the top three in all four years of The Pitch, a Shark Tank-styled competition that pits northeast Wisconsin college students against each other as they seek funding for a business start-up idea.
The competition, held in Oshkosh with Lauriano and some other competitors accessing it remotely, was originally scheduled in the spring but was moved to October because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lauriano jumped into the competition when she returned to campus in September.
Lauriano’s business idea is called AX-ES (previously O.M. ID), a for-profit venture that would partner with municipalities in creating and distributing municipal photo identification cards for people who do not have a driver’s license. It’s all about access—or lack thereof—for people who are otherwise at a disadvantage when dealing with everything from City Hall to their neighborhood bank, she said.
AX-ES will develop a “white-label platform” to provide the software and hardware to implement and maintain a municipal ID program, Lauriano said.
“Eventually, we will control the cards’ production and distribution, but we will begin by partnering with each contracted municipality’s city ID agency,” she said. “AX-ES is seeking out contracted partnerships with city ID agencies in municipalities throughout the U.S. to ensure all individuals have access to beneficial and essential services despite socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We are a for-profit social good organization, designed to promote community inclusion, financial access, and improved relationships between residents and local government.”
There are populations in every city that live without appropriate identification. Lauriano said AX-ES aims to bridge that divide.
“The problem is that many individuals who do not hold a driver’s license—homeless constituents, young people, and immigrants—do not have official identification that is accepted by police, banks, and some parks,” she said. “It is a human rights issue since IDs confer access to every aspect of public life.”
Lauriano, coached by Irene Strohbeen ’78 and getting guidance from Gary Vaughan, Lawrence’s coordinator of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, made her pitch to the judges virtually. She weathered technical issues but came out undeterred.
“I tried my best to stress my passion and AX-ES’ potential to provide a super high impact,” she said.
Lauriano said 13 municipalities in the United States currently have municipal IDs. She wants to provide a service to make that much more widespread, with a focus on mid-sized cities that might not have the resources of a major metropolitan area.
“Thus, the real opportunity is to take AX-ES nationwide,” Lauriano said. “We would like to make it easier for cities to implement municipal IDs. Our potential market is the 639 U.S. cities with a population of 50,000 to 200,000. … We want to cater to cities that might not have the human resources to develop their own municipal ID program without external assistance.”
Lawrence was joined in the fourth annual competition by students from St. Norbert College, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, Fox Valley Technical College, Moraine Park Technical College, and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. In all, 10 teams or individuals made pitches to the judges. Nicolet Bank was again the premier sponsor.
Lawrence is the only school to have placed in the top three in each of the four years of the competition. Vaughan praised Lauriano for her preparedness as she navigated the difficulties of a remote pitch while most of the participants were in person.
“The fact that Lawrentians have placed in The Pitch in all four years the event has been held is a tribute to the total Lawrence experience, and it is indicative of the type of dedication and the work ethic our students exhibit in and out of the classroom,” he said. “Adona did great, and we are very proud of her accomplishment.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: email@example.com
During long walks over the summer, Leila Ramagopal Pertl ’87 and Betsy Kowal would talk at length about ways they could collaborate to dynamically connect Pertl’s Lawrence University music education students with Appleton youngsters whose classes had gone virtual amid the pandemic.
Pertl, an instructor in music education in Lawrence’s Conservatory of Music, and Kowal, the Conservatory’s specialist in community outreach, saw a need as overwhelmed elementary school teachers and parents grappled with the demands of online instruction.
They also saw a learning opportunity for their Lawrence students.
The resulting project, a series of live virtual music workshops in collaboration with the Appleton Public Library, debuted on Oct. 24 and will continue with two more this fall and another three or so in Winter Term. Called the Backyard Groove, the free workshops tap into culture bearers in the areas of mariachi, samba, and gamelan music to introduce a wider range of music to students in kindergarten through sixth grade, all wrapped in interaction and participation.
Sign-up for the 10 a.m. Nov. 7 and 21 virtual workshops can be found here.
The students in Pertl’s elementary performing arts methods class prepare the 45-minute workshops, create “grab and go” music kits that participating families can get from the library, and then deliver the workshops live on Saturday mornings.
“This pandemic has given us an opportunity to think differently,” Pertl said. “What are the ways in which we can think about online engagement? Can we use our screens creatively, can we get to every child in a way that allows them to not only perform music but make their own music?”
The project also was approached from the desire to incorporate antiracism into the instruction. How can the workshops speak to global music traditions that are alive and well here in the Fox Valley? That led to partnerships with I Dewa Ketut Alit Adnyana and Sonja Downing, Lawrence instructors in Balinese gamelan, Clarice Cast, an accomplished samba drummer from Brazil, and Nestor Dominguez ’14 and Jando Valdez ’24, who have each created mariachi programs.
“In our Lawrence music education class, we ask the question, ‘What is the music of our community?’ Pertl said. “We can’t know this until we open our doors, extend our hands to our neighbors, and listen. Right here in Appleton we have culture bearers from many global music traditions. When our students are learning to create inclusive and culturally responsive classrooms, they are learning to take a close look at who is in their classroom, and in our larger community, before designing curriculum; a curriculum that engages every child and for which a teacher must renew their sense of being a beginner again—to engage with new music traditions and model joy, curiosity, and respect.”
See more on Lawrence’s music education program here.
The mariachi session kicked off the workshop series. It’ll be followed by the samba workshop on Nov. 7 and the gamelan workshop on Nov. 21, with additional workshops to be scheduled in early 2021. Pertl said she’s hopeful the sessions will draw upwards of 40 screens each, perhaps more as word spreads and interest grows.
For Alex DeBello ’23, part of the mariachi group, the process of creating and then delivering the workshop was both educational and inspiring, for both the Lawrence students and the Appleton youngsters.
“It allowed us to share the beauty and richness of mariachi in a way that was just as vibrant and fun as it was informative,” DeBello said. “Not all of our workshop participants, or even us students who were tasked with creating this workshop, had a mariachi background, so it was an immensely powerful thing to be able to awaken so many minds to this intricate musical tradition.”
Moreau Halliburton ’22, also a student in Pertl’s class, understands how important it is right now for families to find those connections when children may be feeling particularly isolated.
“Music connects us all, no matter how far apart we are,” she said. “I worked with groups of children over Zoom this past summer and they all expressed their sadness in not being able to play and have fun with their friends. Having creative online spaces for children right now, like these online music workshops, provides a safe space for children to come with their families, dance, sing, and meet new friends.”
The library was excited to join forces with Lawrence and reach out to area families looking for those opportunities, said Kowal, who is working with library staff to facilitate the workshops.
“The Backyard Groove is an opportunity to celebrate and uplift the many ways that folks in our community make music,” she said.
The workshops are giving the Lawrence music education students a chance to do what they love—making music and sharing their love of music with kids. DeBello said seeing “everyone’s smiling faces” on the day of the workshop was a huge boost during a difficult time.
“We’re still learning, singing, moving, and dancing despite all that this year has thrown at us,” she said.
In addition to the workshops, the Lawrence students are creating video resources that Appleton teachers—and those in other districts who show interest—can then use in their online teaching. The pandemic has forced music teachers to explore different ways to reach elementary school students, and turning loose the creative minds of Conservatory students to tackle that challenge has been exciting, Pertl said.
“It’s one way our students can engage in responsive classroom creation, foster professional relationships, and serve the community; all skills needed for impactful teaching” she said. “As usual, it’s a complete joy to hand the Lawrence pre-service teachers this project and see the many different ways they come up with its expression.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawrence University’s Physics Department is again celebrating close connections with the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Amelia Mangian ’18, then a fourth-year physics student at Lawrence, spent an internship in the summer of 2017 working with a team of scientists at UCLA led by astronomer Andrea Ghez, who earlier this month won the Nobel for her years-long study of supermassive black holes in the universe.
“She is the model of the perfect scientist,” Mangian said of Ghez. “She persevered, she worked hard, and she proved a lot of people wrong on the way to becoming a world-class researcher and educator. I think the other thing that is remarkable about Andrea is how easily she can communicate her work to people of all ages and how much she cares about spreading her love of science.”
Ghez is one of three recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, joining Roger Penrose, a mathematician at Oxford University in England, and Reinhard Genzel, a professor at the University of California Berkeley and director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. All were honored for their work advancing the study of black holes.
“Working with this team—Andrea, her collaborators, particularly Mark Morris and Tuan Do, as well as her research team, post-docs, and graduate students—has helped my career tremendously,” said Mangian, now pursuing a doctorate in astronomy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “It helped me find a passion for black holes, for astronomy, and for being a role model to other young astronomers who want to be researchers, too.”
A year ago, the Nobel went to two astronomers whose breakthroughs in the 1990s led to the discovery of thousands of exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy, a research subject that Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics and chair of the Physics Department at Lawrence, has focused on for much of her career.
The 2019 Nobel announcement felt like a win for Pickett and her students. The 2020 announcement is much the same. Having a former student so closely connected to the research team is an opportunity to shine a light on undergraduate internships and research opportunities that are plentiful for Lawrence students in the sciences.
Not lost on Mangian or Pickett is that Ghez is only the fourth woman to win the Nobel in Physics, joining Marie Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963), and Donna Strickland (2018). The Nobel adds to Ghez’s growing profile as she blazes trails as a role model for women scientists.
“One of my particular interests, long before coming to Lawrence, has been the history of women in physics and astronomy—our stories, representation, and how we can tear down barriers to success and recognition,” Pickett said. “There are a number of ways we get at this problem, but primarily it comes down to creating a sense of belonging with the department, and the discipline.”
Lawrence is part of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute initiative that challenges U.S. colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably increase their capacity for inclusion of all students, especially those who belong to groups underrepresented in science. It was one of 33 schools selected in 2018 to receive a $1 million grant from HHMI through its Science Education Program to implement its Inclusive Excellence initiative. Another 24 schools were selected the year prior, part of HHMI’s push to reimagine science education to better engage students from all backgrounds.
“Our primary focus is inclusive excellence — how can we increase our successful engagement and the success of students who are under-represented in the sciences, whether first-generation college students, for example, or under-represented minorities?” Pickett said.
Seeing scientists such as Ghez be awarded a Nobel—also of note, two women won the Nobel in chemistry the following day—helps ring that bell, and having a Lawrentian so closely tied to the work adds fuel to the fire. But it also is a reminder that while great strides have been made, the work is far from finished when it comes to equity and opportunity.
“Having those role models, and being able to send our students off campus, potentially to work in a Nobel lab, is huge,” Pickett said. “Closer to home, though, we are today more diverse and more dedicated to that diversity as a department than we have ever been. In particular, the addition of professors (Tianlong) Zu and (Margaret) Koker help make our department begin to look more like our student body—and the importance of that cannot be overstated.”
Mangian, meanwhile, counts Pickett as a mentor who helped her believe in herself as a scientist. That relationship, she said, drives her to pay it forward as a mentor as she carves out her own career.
“She has guided me through rough times and helped me be the best version of myself during the good times,” she said of Pickett. “She’s the reason that I’m where I’m at today, academically and personally.”
At Illinois, Mangian is studying actively feeding supermassive black holes and their host galaxies, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) to infer properties of the black holes such as its luminosity and mass. She’s also building on mentoring lessons she took from Pickett and others at Lawrence.
“I’ve been very active in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through the organization I run called the Society for Equity in Astronomy,” Mangian said. “We are a group focused on improving the astronomy department at Illinois and those across the country. We run a mentorship program with about 40 individuals involved and have monthly discussions about culturally significant topics such as the Strike for Black Lives, #BlackInTheIvory, and the ongoing situation with the Thirty Meter Telescope being constructed on indigenous lands on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. I am also starting up a tutoring program aimed at helping students with disproportionate educational backgrounds coming into the astronomy program at Illinois.”
Mangian’s work in 2017 with Ghez’s group came after being selected for a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program, a highly competitive process. Lawrence students in recent years have gone through that program to land research posts at the University of Indiana, University of Wisconsin, Harvard, University of Rochester, and the University of Twente in the Netherlands, among others.
“These experiences are valuable regardless of whether you end up going to graduate school or not,” Mangian said. “Having the opportunity to work in a research environment early on in your life allows you to explore areas that interest you the most, helps you build skills to prepare you for a wide variety of jobs—collaboration, computer skills, communication—and helps build your professional network. This, along with my time working with Megan, convinced me that I wanted to be an astronomer, and an educator, too.”
It also gave her the chance to get to know and learn from a future Nobel Prize winner, something she reflected on when she heard the Ghez announcement from the Nobel Committee for Physics, relayed to her by her mother.
“My excitement grew throughout the day as I came to terms with the fact that I not only worked for a Nobel laureate, but I’d been to her house, too, for wine and cheese. I couldn’t think of a more deserving person to win the award.”
We’re tracking John Holiday’s journey on The Voice. Get updates and insights here as the Lawrence University associate professor of music competes on NBC’s popular music competition show, now in its ninth year and 19th season.
Nov. 24: The Knockouts
John Holiday has been leaving the coaches on The Voice in disbelief each time he takes the stage. On Tuesday’s episode, the Lawrence University voice professor added Usher, on hand as a Mega Mentor, to the list.
“How is he able to sing this high?” a shocked Usher said as Holiday sang Eric Carmen’s All By Myself during the knockout round of the NBC singing competition. “What did I do wrong in this lifetime to not have this voice?”
John Legend, Holiday’s coach on the show, concurred, choosing Holiday to advance to the live playoffs, which begin next week.
It was the latest win for the Lawrence Conservatory of Music associate professor of music. A countertenor with spectacular range, he took a Celine Dion approach to All By Myself, to the amazement of the panel of coaches.
“John, we’ve never even seen or heard anyone that sounds like you on planet Earth, of 7 billion people,” Legend said. “Every choice you made was well-considered, and beautifully executed.”
Holiday’s knockout win came against Cami Clune, who was then rescued with a steal from Kelly Clarkson.
Here’s what others are saying:
Green Bay Press-Gazette: “John Holiday didn’t just sing Eric Carmen’s All By Myself for his knockout round on The Voice, he sang Celine Dion’s version of Eric Carmen’s All By Myself. Then, just to take things up a notch, as the Appleton countertenor has been known to do, he asked himself how Aretha Franklin might sing Celine Dion’s version of Eric Carmen’s All By Myself. That was the performance he turned in Tuesday night.”
Entertainment Tonight: “John Holiday, a 35-year-old professor of music, has wowed the coaches all season with his otherworldly range and powerful falsetto. John’s song choice is an iconic one: All by Myself, by Eric Carmen, which was made famous when Celine Dion covered it in 1996. He hits every note, and then some—amazing the coaches by nailing the iconic high belt that Celine made a signature of the track.”
Billboard: “His soaring vocals while performing Celine Dion’s All By Myself led to a jaw-dropping reaction from the judges and a standing ovation.”
The Voice continues on Monday.
Nov. 10:The Battles
John Holiday advanced through the battle round following a stirring duet of Stevie Wonder’s Summer Soft with fellow contestant Julia Cooper.
Competing as part of Team Legend, coached by John Legend and with an assist from guest advisor Miguel, Holiday flashed his spectacular range. Legend then chose Holiday to move on, saying: “John is just so remarkable. He’s just one of those talents that don’t come along very often. We haven’t seen someone with his immense gift on this show, and I had to pick him.”
Legend also used his one “save” to keep Cooper’s hopes alive. They both advance to the knockout round.
The episode also showed Holiday on the Lawrence campus and referenced his work as a voice professor in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. Holiday spoke of his efforts to inspire his students to always reach for more and always be themselves.
“I tell my students this all the dang time,” Holiday said after Legend challenged him to never hold back on what makes him special, referencing his incredible vocal range. “I tell them if they’re different, be more different. What Miguel and John were telling me is just soar, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna soar.’”
Legend wasn’t the only one impressed. Here’s what else was being said about Holiday following the Nov. 10 performance:
Gwen Stefani, also a coach on the show: “I have no words for you. I don’t even understand how you’re real.”
The Daily Mail: “John Holiday and Julia Cooper treated viewers of The Voice on Tuesday to one of the best battles in the nine-year history of the NBC singing competition show.”
Yahoo Entertainment: “The episode saved the best for last, with an astounding, standing-ovation-garnering duet that coach John Legend described as ‘musical-expert-level, Ph.D. professor-level.’ (One of the contestants, Team Legend opera singer John Holiday, is an actual music professor, so that made sense.) Legend gave Holiday and Julia Cooper the most difficult song ever performed on The Voice — Stevie Wonder’s Summer Soft, an advanced Songs in the Key of Life vocal workout packed with twists and turns and key changes and unorthodox chords — but he was confident that these prodigies were up for the challenge.”
Billboard: “Team Legend’s John Holiday took on Julia Cooper with a breezy face off to Wonder’s Summer Soft. When Holiday, the countertenor with astonishing range, and Cooper, an Ohio native with a special voice of her own, completed their performance, it was set to the calls of ‘wow’ and ‘oh my gosh’ from the coaching panel.”
Look for more from Holiday when the knockouts begin in two weeks.
Oct. 19: The Blind Auditions
John Holiday, a voice professor in Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music, made a huge impression Monday night as he debuted on NBC’s The Voice, drawing rave reviews from the coaches and lighting up social media.
He gave TV viewers a taste of what Lawrentians have come to know over the last three years – Holiday has incredible talent.
“Your range is just otherworldly,” John Legend, one of the celebrity coaches, told Holiday following his performance of Misty, a song composed in 1954 by jazz pianist and composer Erroll Garner that is most often associated with the great Ella Fitzgerald. “It was one of the best performances I’ve seen and heard on this show.”
The 35-year-old Holiday is competing in the 19th season of the popular music reality show that features four music stars – Legend, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, and Blake Shelton – serving as music coaches looking to get their chosen musicians to the finish line.
Legend, Stefani, and Clarkson all sought Holiday for their team during Monday’s blind auditions. Holiday chose Legend, and he’ll now compete during the season as part of Team Legend.
A native of Rosenberg, Texas, who moved to Appleton in 2017 to be part of the Lawrence Conservatory faculty, Holiday is no stranger to the big stage. He has performed around the world, mostly in opera. In 2017, he was named the winner of the Marian Anderson Vocal Award, presented by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington National Opera to a young American singer who has achieved initial professional success in the area of opera, oratorio, or recital repertory and who exhibits promise for a significant career.
During Monday’s episode, Holiday said his participation on The Voice is part of an effort to cross over into other genres, to show new range.
“I’m known as an opera singer but I love jazz, I love gospel,” he said. “I want to cross over in a big way, and America has never seen a person that looks like me doing it, not in the mainstream. I think it’s time, especially with what’s going on in the world right now. I’m here to show other little boys that no matter what color they are, you can be and do anything, even in a world that can be so chaotic. My prayer is that I bring them hope that tomorrow will be better.”
Others took notice. Billboard magazine trumpeted: “Some singers have a voice. John Holiday has the voice.” Yahoo Entertainment said: “This flashy crooner’s performance was bold and stupendous and totally memorable; he looked and sounded like a superstar.”
John Holiday talks about his love of teaching, recruiting. Read more here.
Holiday also flashed his insightful personality in Monday’s episode. He talked about difficulties he had as a child and the love he felt from his family a decade ago when he told them he is gay.
“I was really bullied growing up because I had the high voice,” he said. “Even before I knew it, I was made fun of for being gay. But I’m lucky to have my grandmother, Big Momma, in my life. She has been my biggest cheerleader. On my 25th birthday, I said, ‘Big Momma, I have something to tell you. I’m gay.’ She said, ‘There is nothing in this world that you could do that would make me love you any less than I love you right now.’ I wish that kind of love for everybody because it allowed me to be myself without apology. It freed me and it allowed me to soar. I’m so thankful that I get to be here.”
Besides Holiday, eight other musicians were selected in the opening night of blind auditions to move on. Additional auditions are yet to come.
Stefani told Holiday he has big things ahead of him, and that The Voice will be a vehicle that will showcase his talents for the world.
“Your tone is so different from anything I’ve ever heard,” she said. “It sounds so retro in such a great way. You know who you are and you know what you want to do. It’s really just about having someone to be your cheerleader.”
Now the voice teacher becomes the student under Legend’s tutelage.
“Everything you did was so beautiful,” Legend said. “It was so musical. I would absolutely be thrilled to coach you and welcome you to Team Legend.”