Tag: John Holiday

His students applaud as John Holiday finishes inspired run on “The Voice”

John Holiday sings Where Do We Go during Monday’s finals of NBC’s The Voice. (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University voice professor John Holiday finished his wild ride on NBC’s The Voice Tuesday night, placing fifth in the 19th season of the popular TV singing competition.

Holiday, an associate professor in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music since 2017, showcased a voice that John Legend called “otherworldly” as he advanced through the blind auditions, the battle rounds, the knockouts, the live playoffs, and the live semifinals, where TV viewers cast votes to move him into the Final 5.

On Tuesday’s finale, he was joined on stage by Legend to sing Bridge Over Troubled Water, his final performance during an inspired run.

“It’s been an incredible dream I could never have imagined,” Holiday said of his time on the show.

But the title for Holiday wasn’t to be. Carter Rubin, a 15-year-old coached by Gwen Stefani, was named the winner, based on viewer votes following Monday night’s live finals performances, earning a recording contract in the process.

Late Tuesday, Holiday tweeted: “America, I love you so much! I appreciate every prayer that helped me and my #TheVoice family soar. Congratulations, @carterjrubin! The world is ready for your fierce talents and beautiful spirit. #HoliBaes forever! I love you and I am excited to be on this ride with you.”

Holiday excelled in a competition that began in the spring with thousands of hopefuls and drew an average TV viewership of more than 7 million people during twice-weekly airings over the past two months. The show was conducted without its usual live audience and with social distancing protocols in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Get to know Lawrence’s John Holiday here.

Follow along with the John Holiday Tracker here.

Flashing a fun sartorial style to match a vocal talent that has made him a rising star in opera circles, the 35-year-old Holiday drew plenty of applause along the way, earning attention in the Los Angeles Times and USA TODAY, hearing effusive praise from the show’s celebrity coaches—Legend, Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, and Blake Shelton—and growing a fan base he calls his Holibaes.

Holiday’s voice students at Lawrence, who affectionately call him Prof, cheered him every step of the way, including through tonight’s finale.

“From day one, Prof has told us that one of the main reasons he pursues his career is to show us what’s possible,” said David Womack ’21, a senior voice student from Austin, Texas. “Watching him quickly become a household name is direct proof that we can do anything we set our minds to, as he frequently reminds us.”

John Holiday sings Halo during the live finals of The Voice. (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)

In Monday night’s live finals, Holiday delivered Beyonce’s Halo as his cover song and the Justin Tranter-produced Where Do We Go as his original.

“I love that you continue to show America more of yourself,” Legend told him. “You put your heart out there every single week. You have an out-of-this-world gift.”

Staying genuine

Holiday jumped into the competition after the pandemic shut down his performance schedule in the spring. He continued to teach remotely while quietly taking part in the auditions and the early rounds of the show from Los Angeles. The recorded segments—launched with Holiday delivering a stunning performance of Misty that quickly drew Legend to his corner in the blind auditions—began airing in mid-October. Holiday was sworn to secrecy as he advanced through each round as part of Team Legend. He returned to L.A. as the live rounds and viewer voting began two weeks ago.

Sarah Navy ’22, a junior voice student from Holiday’s hometown region of Houston, Texas, said she and her Lawrence classmates already appreciated Holiday’s immense talents. Seeing other viewers discovering not only that talent but also his joyful heart was part of the fun.

“Even though I have spent so much time with him and have heard him sing so much, sometimes I go back to the first time I met him and I become that girl in tears who knew one day she could be great, too,” Navy said. “He is such a genuine person who works so hard and is being a representative for so many people.”

That genuineness shined through all levels of the show, whether Holiday was talking to Legend or host Carson Daly about his teaching at Lawrence, being Black and gay, singing opera, his incredibly high falsetto, growing up in his beloved Texas, his relationship with the grandmother he calls Big Momma, and the pain being felt by artists around the world in the midst of the pandemic.

“He is always so authentic to who he is, which is so inspiring to see,” said Jack Murphy ’21, a senior choral student from Neenah. “And just witnessing the outpouring of love for him. Not only for his talent, but what he stands for as well. It’s encouraging and wonderful. I am so immensely proud of him, and so is our entire studio.”

During his run on The Voice, Holiday became the student under the coaching guidance of Legend. In Monday’s episode, he thanked his mentor for instilling in him confidence that he could shed labels and transcend musical boundaries.

The Voice has been a place that has helped me to stretch myself far beyond what I thought was possible for me,” Holiday said. “Having John as one of my biggest supporters, his belief in me means the world. … I spent so much of my life hiding, and I won’t ever hide again. He’s given me permission to fly.”

Lawrence pride

While NBC billed Holiday as a native of Rosenberg, Texas, his home the past three years has been in Appleton. He represented Lawrence well throughout the season, speaking not only to the power of music education but also to the need for musicians to live and perform authentically and with empathy, resiliency, and flexibility.

“We couldn’t be prouder of John Holiday and his incredible journey on The Voice,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. “John is the perfect example of the flexible, versatile, virtuoso musician that the 21st century needs and Lawrence strives to produce. He is an opera star who can sing jazz and pop at the highest levels. He is a top-tier performer and a top-tier educator who values his students above all else. What an incredible role model for our students and musicians around the globe.”

With The Voice now finished, Holiday will prepare for Winter Term at Lawrence while getting at least a bit of his performance schedule back. Opera Philadelphia announced last week that Holiday will take the lead in Tyshawn Sorey’s Save the Boys in February, to be streamed on the Opera Philadelphia Channel.

Hannah Jones ’22, a junior voice student from Houston, will be among the Conservatory students excited to welcome their professor home, even if it has to be via Zoom for a bit longer.

“Prof always tells us, ‘I want to show you that it is possible,’” Jones said. “Well, he was doing that well before The Voice, but this is another level. Words cannot describe my excitement for Prof’s success.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Stunning talent, passion, wisdom guide John Holiday’s journey on “The Voice”

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.

The John Holiday Tracker: Follow along on his journey on “The Voice.”

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.”

John Holiday arrives in The Voice spotlight having already performed in some of the world’s most iconic venues. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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.”

John Holiday: “It is the most amazing gift to be a teacher and to inspire others.”

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.

Read more: John Holiday loves to recruit talented students to Lawrence

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: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

The John Holiday Tracker: An inspired run to the finals comes to an end

John Holiday, a professor in the Conservatory of Music, is competing on NBC’s The Voice. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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.

Dec. 15: End of the line

John Holiday performed one last time on The Voice during Tuesday’s finale before the end came a little short of the podium. Holiday placed fifth in viewer voting that followed Monday’s live finals.

Carter Rubin, a 15-year-old coached by Gwen Stefani, took the title of The Voice.

Holiday, one of five contestants to make it to the live finals, took to the stage with his coach, John Legend, singing Bridge Over Troubled Water as part of the three-hour finale.

Holiday’s students react as he performs in finals: Read here

He thanked Legend for his guidance and said he hoped to work with him again in the future.

“It’s been an incredible journey, and I just want to thank you so much for believing in me, for pushing me to soar, for making me really believe more in myself,” Holiday said. “This has been such an incredible dream, a dream that I just could never have imagined.”

Dec. 14: The finale

John Holiday delivered a stunning performance of Beyonce’s Halo Monday night, the second of two songs he performed in the live finals of NBC’s The Voice.

Whether it was enough to get the Lawrence University voice professor the win will depend on how viewers cast their votes in the hours that followed. Voting closed at 6 this morning and the results will be revealed in the season’s final episode at 7 tonight. Holiday is one of five finalists in the running for the title of The Voice and a recording contract.

Get to know Lawrence’s John Holiday here.

Holiday’s performance of Halo brought more gushing praise from the coaches.

“There’s no one like you,” John Legend said, calling Holiday’s range “an out-of-this-world gift.”

He added: “What a magical voice you have. I’ve never ever seen anyone that does it quite like you.” 

Holiday, on Team Legend, is competing against four other finalists who also performed Monday night. They include DeSz (coached by Kelly Clarkson), Carter Rubin (coached by Gwen Stefani), and Ian Flanigan and Jim Ranger (both coached by Blake Shelton).

Besides Halo, Holiday performed the Justin Tranter-produced Where Do We Go.

“I love that you don’t just want to sing a song, you like a challenge,” Clarkson said of Holiday. “Your range is incredible. … I’ve honest to God never heard anyone like you.”

Win or lose, Holiday thanked Legend for his guidance throughout the process.

The Voice has been a place that has helped me to stretch myself far beyond what I thought was possible,” he said. “Having John as one of my biggest supporters, his belief in me means the world. … He’s given me permission to fly.”

We’ll find out tonight if that flight includes being champion of the 19th season of The Voice.

Dec. 8: To the finals

John Holiday performs during the Dec. 7 Live Top 9 Performances on The Voice. (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)

The Voice viewers responded strongly to John Holiday’s emotional performance of Fix You on Monday night, voting the Lawrence University voice professor into the finals. Tuesday’s episode revealed the four singers who emerged as top vote-getters on their respective teams, as well as one contestant earning an “instant save” via viewer votes.

Holiday, part of Team Legend, and the four other finalists will now compete next Monday night to see who is named “The Voice” for the 19th season of the NBC reality music competition. The title comes with a recording contract.

Joining Holiday on stage for the Dec. 14 finale will be Desz (Team Kelly), Carter Rubin (Team Gwen), Jim Ranger (Team Blake), and Ian Flanigan (Team Blake), who got the instant save following a sing-off with the other eliminated contestants.

“On cloud 9! I really made it through to #VoiceTop5! Thank you, #Holibaes,” Holiday tweeted following Tuesday’s announcement. He shared a thank you video here.

Holibaes is Holiday’s nickname for his growing legion of fans. They’ll need to be voting in full force come Monday night if they want to take the singer with the “otherworldly voice”—in the words of Team Legend coach John Legend—to the finish line. Monday’s show airs at 7 p.m., with voting open from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Dec. 7: An emotional bid for the finals

John Holiday delivered a gorgeous version of Coldplay’s Fix You on The Voice Monday night, bringing John Legend to tears and giving viewers another great reason to vote him into the finals.

We’ll find out Tuesday night if the Lawrence University voice professor’s performance did the trick. Results of votes from Monday night will be revealed in the episode airing at 7 p.m. on NBC. Five of the nine contestants – one each from the four coaches’ teams and one wild card, will move on to next week’s finals.

Legend, Holiday’s coach on the reality music show, challenged the singer to be a little less perfect on Fix You, to let his voice show some vulnerability. Holiday the teacher embraced the role of student and took Legend’s coaching to heart.

“I mean, I’m crying over here,” Legend said as Holiday finished his performance. “When I talked to John about this song, I said it would mean a lot to us if you just give your emotional best performance and let yourself be not perfect, let yourself just live in the emotion of the song. And we felt it.”

Legend said hearing Holiday sing the song in rehearsals meant a lot to him and his wife, Chrissy Teigen, because of the pain their family has gone through this year. They lost their unborn son during pregnancy in September. Hearing Holiday sing the song on stage brought all the emotions.

Legend wasn’t alone in that. Fellow coach Kelly Clarkson was choked up.

“The last part of that broke me in a way that I had to shut off,” she said.

Dec. 1: Big support from voters

It’s on to the final nine for John Holiday.

Results from the viewer voting that followed the Nov. 30 live performances were released during the Dec. 1 episode. Holiday, the voice professor from Lawrence University, was the top vote-getter among the four remaining contestants on Team Legend. That moves him on to round two of the live performances, set for 7 p.m. Dec. 7.

Holiday tweeted his appreciation to those who voted: “My heart is overflowing with joy,” he shared following Tuesday’s show. “I feel so blessed that your votes put me through to the #VoiceTop9.”

Top vote-getters from each team moved on, as did one from each team saved by the coach. There was then a sing-off for one wild card spot. Those final nine will perform on Dec. 7, setting up a finale on Dec. 14.

Nov. 30: The voting begins

The Live Performances round on NBC’s The Voice kicked off Nov. 30 with John Holiday singing a stunning version of Fly Me to the Moon, a song most often associated with Frank Sinatra.

It was the first of three Monday nights of live performances in Los Angeles as TV viewers vote to narrow the field in the popular reality TV competition.

Holiday, decked out in a white suit with matching hat and glasses, showed up to the playoffs ready to make a statement. He tweeted this just before the show began: “Pulled up to the #TheVoiceLives with a vintage Mustang to match my suit. You gotta coordinate!”

The Los Angeles Times featured Holiday earlier in the day, adding to the growing momentum surrounding the Lawrence University voice professor and opera singer.

If Holiday advances through the first night of voting, you’ll have two more chances to support him. The live rounds will continue at 7 p.m. Dec. 7, and Dec. 14. Each time, viewers will have until 6 a.m. the next day to vote. Up to 10 votes can be cast per individual email in each of the three voting windows.

The direct link to vote can be found here: www.nbc.com/VoiceVote, and The Voice Official App can also be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play (see more information at www.nbc.com/VoiceApp).

Holiday, an associate professor of music in Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music, is among the performers who advanced through the blind auditions, the battle round, and the knockouts to get to the three weeks of playoffs. Up until now, the coaches made the calls. Now the viewers, more than 7 million, get a chance to cast their votes.

Here’s how NBC describes the live shows: Once the Live Performance Shows begin, the top artists will compete each week against each other during a live broadcast. As always, the television audience will vote to save their favorite artists. The artists with the lowest number of votes will be eligible for the Instant Save. These artists will each perform a new song that represents why they should earn the save. America will then have the opportunity to save their favorite performer by voting on The Voice Official App or NBC.com. The singers with the lowest number of votes will be sent home each week. In the end, one will be named “The Voice” and will receive the grand prize of a recording contract.

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.

John Holiday on The Voice. (Photo courtesy of NBC)

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.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

From Holiday to “Hamilton,” the coming months in Appleton look glorious

Publicity photo of "Hamilton" performance.
“Hamilton” to come to Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in October.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

If entertainment offerings in or near Lawrence University are a big part of campus life — and they are — we are in for a spectacular 14 months ahead.

We’ll define “near Lawrence” to mean downtown Appleton, 100% walkability.

Lawrence unveiled its 2019-20 Performing Arts Series earlier this month. The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center released its spectacular 2019-20 Broadway lineup a few weeks ago. And the Mile of Mile Music crew just announced plans for Mile 7.

All we can say is, where do we get in line?

We can’t do them all, of course, but the options look glorious. We’ve highlighted 20 shows to circle on the calendar. This doesn’t include all the great live music available on a regular basis in the downtown area, the weekly farmer’s market, other arts offerings, or all the great theater and music performances at Lawrence.

But these 20 have us pretty fired up.

1: John Holiday, faculty recital, 8 p.m. May 1, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: We’re starting with something that should definitely not slide under the radar. Holiday is one of the Conservatory of Music’s brightest lights. He’s a rising national star in the opera world and has significant chops as a jazz vocalist as well. After giving this recital – and it’s free – his upcoming schedule includes performances at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, shows in England, Shanghai and Switzerland and dates with the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Los Angeles Opera. Joining him May 1 will be Mark Urness (double bass), Dane Richeson (drums), Andrew Crooks (piano) and Neeki Bey (piano).

Portrait of John Holiday
John Holiday

2: Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, 7:30 p.m. May 19, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: This one is for the ballroom dancers out there. It’s a solo tour from the dancer who helped put “Dancing with the Stars” on the map.

3: Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, 8 p.m. May 22, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: Fresh off its back-to-back DownBeat Awards, the LUJE highlights the incredible quality of musicianship up and down the roster in the Conservatory of Music. And May is a month where the Conservatory is on full display. Take your pick from a full calendar of Conservatory concerts.

4: John Prine, 8 p.m. May 24, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: One of the greatest singer-songwriters to ever pick up a guitar, Prine returns to the PAC on the heels of his Grammy-nominated album, “The Tree of Forgiveness.”

5: Mile of Music, Aug. 1-4, downtown Appleton: The festival features more than 900 performances in 70 venues in and around College Avenue. It’s the seventh year of the all-original music festival that has grown into one of Wisconsin’s premier music events. Lawrence plays a big role, with the Conservatory faculty leading the music education portion of the festival. Best of all, most of the performances — mostly up-and-coming artists from around the country — are free.  

6: Nick Offerman, All Rise tour, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: In the spirit of this standup show coming to Appleton, we quote (but don’t necessarily endorse) Ron Swanson, Offerman’s “Parks & Recreation” character: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Don’t teach a man to fish, and you feed yourself. He’s a grown man. Fishing isn’t that hard.”

7: Octoberfest, College Avenue, downtown Appleton, Sept. 28: The annual downtown bash ends the summer festival season with a bevy of live music, food and drink that takes over College Avenue with a mass of humanity. Look for the annual License to Cruise on Friday night, then the Octoberfest party all day Saturday. See info here.

8: “Hamilton,” Oct. 1-20, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: Yes, it’s that “Hamilton.” We’ve been waiting two years since the announcement that the Broadway juggernaut is coming to Appleton. Season tickets are on sale now but individual tickets won’t go on sale until much closer to fall. An on-sale date has yet to be announced. Also, watch for information on possible Student Rush tickets for this and other shows at the PAC.

9: Brooklyn Rider, 8 p.m. Oct. 4, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: This is the kickoff of the Artist Series portion of the Performing Arts Series. A string quartet that melds classical, world and rock sounds. (Season tickets for the series are on sale now; single show tickets go on sale Sept. 17, 920-832-6749, boxoffice@lawrence.edu.)

10: Lawrence University Studio Orchestra, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: The Friday night kickoff to the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend will put the talents of Lawrence music faculty and students on full display. The Jazz Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra will be doing a combo, filled with jazz classics and plenty of improvisation.

11: Miguel Zenon Quartet, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: The Saturday night of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend features this multiple Grammy nominee from San Juan who is considered a groundbreaking saxophonist.

12: “The Phantom of the Opera,” Dec. 4-15, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: The musical, a classic loved by some, loathed by others, returns to Appleton as part of the PAC’s Broadway series.

13: Blue Man Group, Jan. 24-26, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: Performance art in the shade of blue. It’s a spectacle.

14: Bill Frisell: Harmony featuring Petra Haden, Hank Roberts, and Luke Bergman, 8 p.m. Feb. 7, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: Frisell, a prolific guitarist, will lead this group through a range of blues and popular American traditions. It’s part of LU’s Jazz Series.

Portrait of Tine Thing Helseth
Tine Thing Helseth

15: Tine Thing Helseth, 8 p.m. Feb. 28, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: A Norwegian trumpet soloist with a rock star following. Also part of the Artist Series.

16: Anderson & Roe Piano Duo, 8 p.m. April 3, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: A high-energy piano duo that is part of the Artist Series. The Miami Herald referred to them as “rock stars of the classical music world.”

17: Melody Moore, 8 p.m. April 18, Memorial Chapel: A soprano who has been drawing raves on some of the top opera stages in the world. Our own John Holiday hails her as “thoughtful, engaging and fiercely talented.” Part of the Artist Series.

18: Tigran Hamasyan Trio, 8 p.m. May 1, 2020, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: A pianist and composer with a jazz-meets-rock sound that has drawn wide praise. Lawrence’s Jose Encarnacion calls him “one of the most remarkable and distinctive jazz piano virtuosos of his generation.” His performance is part of the Jazz Series.

19: “The Band’s Visit,” May 5-10, 2020, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: The sixth of seven shows on the PAC’s Broadway lineup, this is a touring version of the musical that won 10 Tonys in 2018. It’s based on a 2007 Israeli film.

Publicity photo of "Dear Evan Hansen" performance.
“Dear Evan Hansen”

20: “Dear Evan Hansen,” June 23-28, 2020, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: The finale of the PAC’s Broadway season, this musical tells the emotionally rich tale of a lonely teen who becomes a social media sensation, all quite by accident. For a full listing of shows at the PAC, visit here.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Lawrence’s John Holiday finds joy in recruiting young music talent

John Holiday works with a student in his voice studio.
John Holiday works with a student at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

John Holiday slips comfortably into multiple roles.

There’s John Holiday the performer, considered one of the rising young countertenors on the world opera stage.

There’s John Holiday the educator, a sought-after voice instructor at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music.

And then there’s John Holiday the recruiter, a man on a mission to draw some of the finest student musicians in the country to Lawrence.

He’ll be wearing all those hats this week as he joins the conservatory’s Presto! tour to Houston, but perhaps none as significantly as that of recruiter.

Houston is Holiday’s hometown. His connections there are deep, meaningful and current, and he’ll spend much of this week connecting young musicians from his beloved Texas to the university 1,200 miles away that he now calls home.

Collaborations key to Presto tour to Houston: See story here

“I have significant ties to Houston because of my family and my upbringing and my church,” said Holiday, who was born in Houston and grew up in nearby Rosenberg. “Subsequently, whenever I travel home, I always make sure that I plan to visit many of the high schools in the Houston area, chiefly the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which is a long-standing, well-known school for the creative arts, one of the best in the United States. They have won many, many awards at the national level.”

The Presto! tour, a six-day visit to Houston featuring two Lawrence music ensembles and seven faculty members, brings Holiday’s skills in performance, teaching and recruitment into almost ideal alignment. He’ll perform on March 21 along with the two ensembles in a public concert at the Midtown Arts and Theatre Center and spend considerable time teaching and recruiting at area high schools.

He usually makes the visits to the schools solo. This time he’ll have a team with him, spreading the word of the Conservatory of Music and selling high-achieving students on why a Lawrence education would make sense.

“What I do when I go home is I always make sure that I set up master classes and important meetings with the students, not only at HSPVA but other high schools and junior highs in the area as well, so they can become acquainted with me in terms of the opera singing and the jazz singing that I do, but also so they can become acquainted with what I know is an excellent, excellent place for them, which is the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University.

“So, it’s really keeping with that that we came up with the idea to take Presto! to Houston.”

Texas is a state that’s rich with music talent. The 33-year-old Holiday, who has been teaching at Lawrence for nearly two years, already has three students from Texas studying in his voice studio. He makes no secret that he’d love to draw more.

“Texas is a huge, huge, huge arts state,” Holiday said. “As long as we’ve got football, there’s always going to be a phenomenal band and choir in Texas. And, because I’m from Houston, I think Houston has the best.

“But I also can say I’ve experienced wonderful singing and wonderful learning in the Dallas and Austin areas, San Antonio, too. They are all over.”









“It’s my endeavor wherever I go to find those students who I believe represent what I think is a good Lawrentian.”

John Holiday


Holiday has much to sell when it comes to student recruitment. First, of course, there is the world-class quality and social outreach of the Lawrence Conservatory. Then there is his own impressive resume, which includes winning the prestigious Marian Anderson Vocal Award and performing on some of the world’s most celebrated stages.

Consider his performance schedule in the coming weeks and months. In addition to his teaching duties and the Presto! tour, there’s a date with the Dallas Opera, a May 1 faculty recital here in Appleton, a recital at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, a run of performances in England, a recital in Beverly Hills, a tour to Shanghai, a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, performances in Switzerland and then an early 2020 run of performances at the Los Angeles Opera.

That will get the attention of any aspiring musician looking for a mentor.

“Whenever I am somewhere singing a show, I am always recruiting,” Holiday said. “So, if I am in Florida, I’m finding a high school or a group where I can go in and mentor them and do a master class. If I’m in California, I’ll try to find the same thing. I’m actively recruiting because I believe in this school. I believe that we are a phenomenal institution and I believe that we should make it possible for students to get here, so it’s my endeavor wherever I go to find those students who I believe represent what I think is a good Lawrentian.

“A lot of these students have already heard of Lawrence. Then they are able to put a face with a name, with me. And then put a face with the school. Now they say, I know this person is there, so I should totally give it a look.”

More information on Lawrence Conservatory of Music here

It’s hard to put a value on that sort of outreach and energy, said Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory.

“For us, it’s been an incredible advantage having him on the faculty because he just loves the recruiting,” he said.

Doing that recruiting in your hometown? Even better.

“I’m so looking forward to it,” Holiday said of this week’s Presto! visit to Houston. “It makes my heart soar just knowing there are Texas students coming here, because I am a Texas guy through and through.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Collaborations key as Lawrence Conservatory takes its social impact mantra on the road to Houston

Poster and link to information on the Presto Houston tour.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Three years ago, Brian Pertl, equipped with donated funds that would allow the Lawrence Conservatory to launch an annual music tour, set forth a vision for what that might be.

Concert performances would be only one part of any touring experience, the dean of the conservatory said. Any tour would have to mesh with how the conservatory has been evolving and growing over the past decade.

“We’ve been trying very hard to redefine what a conservatory education is,” Pertl said. “Part of that vision is to really ask the question, how can music impact society in positive ways?”

It was with that mission in mind that Presto! was launched three years ago, an annual music tour that would take Lawrence musicians — students and faculty — into a chosen metro market for a mix of musical performances and community outreach, an immersion aimed at establishing relationships and community well-being as much as sharing talents and expanding the conservatory’s musical footprint.

First came a multi-day visit to Minneapolis, with outreach efforts focused on mental health awareness, in addition to public performances. The second year was a deep dive into Chicago, where concerts were supplemented with outreach efforts with groups serving underrepresented communities.

Link to video of Presto visit to Chicago in 2018.
Video: Revisit the 2018 Presto! tour to Chicago

Now comes year three, and the most ambitious Presto! excursion to date. Beginning today, the New Music Ensemble and a select jazz ensemble, along with seven faculty members, will embark on a six-day trip to Houston — hometown of rising opera star and Assistant Professor of Music John Holiday — to perform at the Midtown Arts and Theatre Center and do music outreach and education.

Presto! 2019 details: Houston info here

Meet LU’s John Holiday: Rising music star and talent recruiter

The outreach will include two days of music collaborations with young artists who create electronic music at Workshop Houston, a nonprofit after-school organization that recently made news when it received a $100,000 donation from rapper Travis Scott.

The Lawrence students also will spend three days in an elementary school working with third- and fourth-graders, teaching arts-integrated lesson plans.

John Holiday head and shoulders photo
John Holiday

A concert on Thursday, March 21 will showcase both of the Lawrence ensembles, featuring students and faculty members. Transitioning from one ensemble to the next will be a set by Holiday, first displaying his talents with a classical repertoire, then pivoting to jazz, where his talents are equally lauded.

Faculty members and Lawrence students also will pay visits to Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. The school is a hotbed for the kind of smart, talented musicians Lawrence covets. Pertl said he would love to see more HSPVA students choose to come to Appleton.

“Texas has probably the most astounding public-school music programs in the country,” Pertl said. “It’s phenomenal, the musicians coming out of Texas and the number of musicians coming out of Texas.

“So, for us, if we’re looking at recruiting, anywhere in Texas is a big deal — the fact that John Holiday is from Houston, the fact that John has already created this really amazing relationship with the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, makes Houston a logical choice for the tour. We already have several students from Texas at our conservatory, and we would love to see more.”

Holiday was honored a year ago as the winner of the prestigious Marian Anderson Vocal Award and is considered one of the rising stars of the opera world, a countertenor who got a hometown welcome in November when he sang the National Anthem at a Houston Rockets game.

“He is quickly becoming one of the top operatic countertenors in the world, and his hometown of Houston is embracing their hometown hero,” Pertl said.

Featuring Holiday on the Houston trip, both in recruiting young talent and being showcased at the concert, ties everything together. In the case of the concert, that tie is literal, with the two ensembles and their distinctly different repertoires bookending the set from Holiday.

“Since John does both classical music at the highest level and jazz at the highest level, it seemed like a great idea to have him as the pivot point between the New Music Ensemble and the jazz,” Pertl said.










Brian Pertl: “It’s really an amazing thing, and it changes our students.”

Music Tour With a Mission

The underlying tone of the Presto! Houston tour — music with a purpose — speaks to the direction the conservatory has taken since Pertl arrived in 2008. From the Music for All series that takes live performances into spaces that rarely experience such things to ongoing ensemble performances in a nearby prison, the conservatory has put an emphasis on community outreach and positivity.

The Lawrence Conservatory education is deep, focused on bringing students to the highest level of musicianship, but the education doesn’t stop there. Lawrence is also focused on how music can positively impact society. That’s something that separates Lawrence from other conservatories, and people are taking notice.

“A blog that came out last year on musicschoolcentral.com was all about Lawrence and it was titled, ‘Is this the world’s most socially conscious music school?’” Pertl said. “Yes, we are. I’ll take that headline any day.”

More on ensembles on Presto tour: New MusicJazz

When monies donated three years ago by Lawrence alumnus Tom Hurvis ’60 and his foundation made the annual tour possible — the original commitment was for three years but that has now been extended to at least five — Pertl and his faculty set out to create a touring experience that would be substantive and heartfelt for not only the students but the community to which they would be reaching out.

“The vision we wanted to explore, which nobody really had done, is integrating high-level performance experiences with deeply meaningful community collaborations,” Pertl said. “How can a tour impact a place positively? How can we form meaningful collaborations with organizations so both parties feel like it’s an incredible, positive experience?”

Getting creative in Houston

The Lawrence contingent will try to do just that in Houston, most notably with Workshop Houston, an after-school organization that has programs in Houston’s Third Ward that range from fashion design to dance to music. The students who gather in the music spaces work on computers to create electronic beats.

Workshop Houston officials have been sending tracks their students created to Lawrence. Conservatory professors Jose Encarnacion and Patty Darling and their jazz students have been listening to them and are preparing to collaborate with the young artists when they get to Houston, mixing live playing with the electronic beats to create new music.

“So, improvisation, creating riffs and music over the top, and then at the end of the two days there will be a concert featuring the students from Workshop Houston and Lawrence,” Pertl said.

The key is the collaboration — honing and developing skills and finding the joy in creating something together, said Betsy Kowal, who is helping to facilitate the trip for Lawrence.

Workshop Houston originally opened as a bike repair shop where kids could go after school to work on their bikes. It has evolved over the past 15 years into a multi-tiered program drawing students between sixth and 12th grades interested in a range of arts and academic activities.

Deidra Motton, the community liaison at Workshop Houston, said there are 25 to 30 students who regularly work on music in the organization’s Beat Shop. The five or six students who are the most deeply involved in exploring electronic music will be the ones partnering with the Lawrence contingent in creating new music that melds the computer-generated beats with the live performance.

“This is very new to us,” Motton said. “I just love to see these two worlds collide. It seems like Lawrence is very focused on the classical aspects of music composition and performance, and our students are really digging into the whole programming aspect. I’ve never seen a program merge those two worlds quite like this, so I’m really excited.”

Meanwhile, the outreach with students at Scarborough Elementary School is being facilitated, in part, by Craig Hauschildt, a Lawrence alumnus who is an arts integration specialist in Houston. The goal during the three-day residency in the school is to use music to teach skills that can be used long after the Lawrence students have departed, including preparing the young students for success in their state standardized testing.

“When we design our community engagement residencies, we’re always asking ourselves, how can this residency serve the mission of our partner and benefit their organization in the long run?” Kowal said.

Lessons learned in Minneapolis and Chicago will be applied to Houston. That includes a focus on those lasting impacts. Appleton is 1,200 miles from Houston, so a return visit isn’t realistic. But how can the work being done on this tour pay dividends going forward?

“Each year brings a new understanding of how this project can grow and develop,” Kowal said. “We’re constantly learning as we go, and it’s an ever-evolving understanding.”

The results thus far have been positive, Pertl said, if for no other reason than showing conservatory students in a very real way the power of music and how it can change someone’s world. In a survey following last year’s Chicago tour, 65 percent of the students who participated said their vision of what they wanted to do with music changed because of their Presto! experience.

“It’s really an amazing thing, and it changes our students,” Pertl said. “I love to see that. That’s a lot better than just going on tour and the thing you remember is going out to Denny’s at 1 in the morning.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

John Holiday gives encore recital at the Kennedy Center as Marian Anderson Vocal Award winner

The journey from Rosenberg, Texas to the stage of one of the most famous performance venues in the country has been a “yellow brick road of blessings” according to John Holiday.

The countertenor and first-year assistant professor of voice at Lawrence University from that small, southeast Texas town will find himself in the spotlight of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Thursday, Feb. 15 for an encore recital as the winner of the prestigious Marian Anderson Vocal Award in January 2017.

John HolidayFirst conducted in 2002 to honor the personal and humanitarian achievements of one of the most acclaimed singers of the 20th century, the Marian Anderson Vocal Award celebrates “excellence in performance by recognizing 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.”

“You cannot imagine how overwhelmed I was,” Holiday said of winning the award. “In previous years, I eagerly watched, with awe-struck eyes, singers receive the award, hoping and praying that I would one day be able to join their ranks.”

Like a student cramming for finals, Holiday is “fervently preparing” for his recital, which will feature works by Francis Poulenc, Reynaldo Hahn, Margaret Bonds, and others, what he calls “music that I love, in hopes that, even if for a brief moment, I can bring some beauty into the world with my artistry.”

Anne Midgette, chief classical music critic for the Washington Post, has called described Holiday as “an impressive figure on an opera stage. He’s one of the sweetest-voiced countertenors I’ve encountered, with a mellifluous sound supported by clean crisp diction” while the New York Times hailed him as “an exceptional singer with a strong voice, even in its highest range.”

Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, calls the multi-interested Holiday “a perfect fit for Lawrence.”

“At home on the opera stage, a jazz night club, soloing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic or teaching his students at the conservatory, John Holiday is one of the most versatile vocalists around,” said Pertl. “We couldn’t be happier that John decided to join our outstanding voice department.”

Because the recital means so much to him, Holiday admits to some nervousness as the performance draws near.

“I am lucky enough to know that those nerves really mean that I am excited,” said Holiday, who also received a $10,000 prize as the winner of the Anderson vocal award. “Any time that I’m on stage, I cherish each moment, so it’s never just another performance. It’s an opportunity to get to share what I love to do with a room full of beautiful people.

John Holiday smiliing“Marian Anderson opened so many doors for me and countless other African-American artists and allowed us to stand boldly in our art. I hope that, in some small way, I am able to do the same thing she has done for me for this next generation of artists and educators.”

Prior to his recital, Holiday will participate in a short residency at the opera workshop program of Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts where he will lead a masterclass.

“I believe it is important for one to lift others up as they climb up, so I am eagerly looking forward to sharing and spending time with these bright-eyed students,” said Holiday, who joined the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty last fall. “When I look out into the audience on February 15th, I look forward to seeing the light in their eyes, and I hope they can can see mine and feel the gratitude for all of the love, support and encouragement throughout the years.”

Two past Marian Anderson Vocal Award winners include mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke (2010), who will perform at Lawrence on Feb. 24 as part of the university’s Artist Series concert program, and tenor Lawrence Brownlee (2006), who sang here as part of the 2015-16 Artists Series.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.