Symphony Cellist Forms New Quad City Music Academy
Saturday in the Arts is a comprehensive, in-depth look at a personality, issue, or trend in the Quad-Cities arts and entertainment scene, running every Saturday morning on your site for fun, free, local entertainment and features, QuadCities.com.
Hannah Holman has a dream and it’s tantalizingly close to coming true.
The passionate principal cellist for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra – of which she’s been a member since 2001 – has spent years planning and forming the Quad City Music Academy, which is now a registered nonprofit organization with an accomplished local board of directors and faculty of more than a dozen stellar musicians from across the country.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the QCMA plans to start online Sept. 8, “to provide an inclusive home for high quality music instruction, performance and collaboration in the Quad-Cities community.” Its vision is to “enrich and enhance the cultural and social fabric of our community through music.”
“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time,” Holman said recently. “I’ve been playing with the Symphony almost 20 years now, and I had the sense from both teachers and students that there’s more help needed. When the Maia Quartet ended in 2012, I was wondering what I was going to do next. I met with then-executive director of the Symphony, Jeff vom Saal, and said I think we should really form a music school.”
Vom Saal (executive director of the QCSO from 2007-12) is now executive director of the Spokane (Wash.) Symphony & Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, a position he’s held since 2016, and is advising Holman and QCMA.
After she got a job playing with the New York City Ballet Orchestra (starting in the 2012-13 season), she put that dream on the shelf. “But the idea and the need haven’t gone away,” Holman said.
“As a third-generation cellist, and with siblings who also play and perform, it is in my blood to teach,” she says in her bio at hannahholmancello.com. “I started teaching while in junior high school, and have enjoyed encouraging and helping people of all ages find their ‘voice’ through music and with the cello ever since.
“I was very lucky to have great teaching in my formative years,” Holman – who performs on her grandmother’s 1925 cello – wrote. “I started with my grandmother, was coached at home by my father, and — through junior high and high school — I worked with Louis Potter. I learned very early on that music is entwined with life, with people, with one’s perspective on the world.
“To be able to speak through music is incredible,” Holman says on the site. “We have a duty in making music to touch, speak, console, uplift, bring joy to, and comfort or challenge all who hear us. To do that, one must build enough technical foundation that playing the cello is an extension of who we are so that when we play, we feel as technically free as possible to express and communicate spontaneously with the audience and our friends and colleagues.”
First studying cello at 5, Holman attended the Eastman School of Music and Michigan State University, where she completed her bachelor of music degree. She obtained her master’s degree with Fritz Magg at the New England Conservatory.
Holman was on the University of Iowa music faculty from 2002-2012, and has served on the faculties of Worcester College (UK), Michigan State University Community School, and Virginia Union University. She’s taught at Interlochen Center for the Arts string quartet program (2004, 2009, 2010), and the Kansas City String Quartet Program since 2010. She’s participated in numerous festivals, and has been on the faculty of the Eastern Music Festival since 2001.
Holman has been principal cellist for the QCSO since 2008 and is the new one-year adjunct Cello Instructor at the University of Northern Iowa for 2020-2021. She began her professional career in England playing with the English String Orchestra under Yehudi Menuhin and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle. Her previous orchestral work also includes serving as assistant principal cello with the Michigan Chamber Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony; and the American Sinfonietta.
In 2019, she performed the Korngold Cello Concerto with the QCSO, and Jennifer Higdon’s “Soliloquy” also with the QCSO. She has recorded a series of videos highlighting the lives of women cellists from the past, and performed six pieces with the Iowa City Community Chamber Orchestra, each focusing on a different cellist. She performed the 4th Cello Suite of J.S. Bach in Carnegie Hall on March 3, 2020 as part of the Bach Cello Suites Festival, celebrating 300 years of the cello suites.
An active chamber musician, Holman helped found Trio 826, with her friends Susanna Klein, violin, and Julia Bullard, viola. She was a founding member of the Beaumont Piano Trio, which performed around the U.S. and England, and was also a founding member of Quadrivinium, a music ensemble in residence at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
From 2002-2011, she was a member of the Maia Quartet, the University of Iowa’s quartet in residence, which toured China, Japan, and throughout the United States, including teaching residencies at Interlochen Center for the Arts, the Great Wall International Music Academy in China, and the Austin Chamber Music Center. She regularly performs in chamber ensembles with musicians from throughout the nation.
“Everybody can come together”
Holman has tapped her vast network of contacts to assemble a deep, qualified team for QCMA – which aims to offer instruction to all students, regardless of their financial means.
“This is really inspiring,” she said. “I feel like all these angels fall into my path to inspire me to keep moving forward with this.” One of her former students from University of Iowa, Emma Stapleton, went to New England Conservatory, earning a master’s degree in cello, and then got involved in fundraising.
Stapleton worked for Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and for the Grammy Music Education Coalition, to raise money for them. She’s spent the past decade working in development and leadership positions in the nonprofit sector, with a strong passion for education and social justice causes. Stapleton is currently vice president of philanthropy for Entertain Impact and is an advisor for QCMA.
She and Holman discussed the academy providing high-quality teaching in the Q-C so “kids don’t feel they have to go to Iowa City or Chicago, if they want to try and get into Juilliard or something,” Holman said. “And, what I’ve seen in other places, that education is only available to people who can afford it.”
“Under the same beautiful, inspiring building, or online, everybody can come together,” Holman said. “One of my dreams is that there’s more opportunities for people to get to talk to each other and work together through music.”
El Sistema focuses on free lessons and building life skills through music.
“Not to have people be the best, world-class violinists – they could, but that’s not the goal,” Holman said.
El Sistema — the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela — is a social and cultural work of the Venezuelan State. It was founded in 1975 by the Venezuelan teacher and musician José Antonio Abreu to systematize the instruction and collective and individual practice of music through symphony orchestras and choirs, as instruments of social organization and development.
It has been championed by Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel, who was trained in El Sistema in Venezuela. For El Sistema classes, students must qualify for free or reduced public school lunch to register, or by special arrangement.
For QCMA, El Sistema will be led by Andrea Benavides Chaves, Program Director at Chicago Metamorphosis Orchestra Project and Assistant Director of Music Education in Human Values and Research at EMCO (Cóbano Music School, Costa Rica).
Holman also envisions Suzuki and traditional lessons every week, group classes, chamber music coaching, recitals, and a lecture and master-class series on Saturdays, with Zoom guests from around the world. “I think it’s going to be inspiring,” she said.
“I need to do some major fundraising, because I’m paying the teachers pretty well,” she said.
“I want to build bridges – that’s like our slogan – across the community, across the river, across teachers who are already teaching in the Quad-Cities,” Holman said. “I want to have a balance of people.”
“It’s like restaurant row; it’s not like one thing serves everybody,” she said.
Yoo-Jung Chang (a QCSO cellist who’s taught at St. Ambrose and Grinnell) has moved to Los Angeles, but plans to teach online for QCMA and return to play here. Chamber music is an important option since there currently isn’t a vehicle for Q-C students to play in a chamber music group, under the existing QCSO youth ensembles.
“Let’s provide something that’s missing, if we can,” Holman said. “They could be taking lessons through the Symphony’s private lesson program, but taking chamber music with us. Or they could participate in a master class through our program.”
“It’s exciting,” she said, noting she talked years ago with former QCSO concertmaster Allen Ohmes, who agreed on the need for such a school. “I want to create something that’s sensitive to everybody’s needs and what’s already in place.”
The QCSO has played a role in providing these services to the community for decades and the QCSO Private Lesson Program matches students of all ages and ability levels with highly qualified instructors for weekly lessons at locations around the Quad-Cities.
Julia Bullard, UNI viola professor (and violist for Holman’s Trio 826) will start an Alexander Technique course. The Alexander Technique is a method of developing healthy posture and movement habits through focused attention to the mind-body relationship. It’s useful for musicians as holding an instrument and repetitive movement can be sources of stress on the body. Another great benefit of these lessons is working on your ability to maintain relaxed and focused — a must for musicians, Holman said.
This introductory class with Bullard will be an exploration of some basic anatomy, movement, breathing. and perception, and how this is related to musical practice and performance. It’s most appropriate for high-school and adult learners.
The class will be held one hour a week at 4 p.m. on Fridays for 8 weeks via Zoom, and students need enough floor space to move around, a chair with a flat seat, your instrument, a mat or carpet for lying on, a few paperback books, and an open mind.
Help from Virginia
The violinist of Trio 826, Susanna Klein, lives in Richmond, Va., and also played with Holman in the Richmond Symphony Orchestra many years ago under Mark Russell Smith (now the QCSO music director). She is a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Holman asked her for help running QCMA.
“I had written a job description for a student intern,” Holman said. Klein recommended one of her students – Stacey Sharpe, now a senior. “She’s just a crackerjack, amazing, humanitarian person,” Holman said. “Within two days, she helped me write the faculty and student handbooks. I couldn’t even breathe, because I didn’t know how to start. She asked all the right questions.”
Now majoring in violin performance, Sharpe first wanted to be a music education major.
“Although I switched my major, my desire to teach the next generation has not changed,” she said by e-mail recently. “I was so blessed to have parents that were able to enroll me in music at a young age and I can truly say that it changed my life for the better. I believe that every student should have a space where they feel safe and free to express themselves.
Sharpe hopes to start her own music school someday, focusing on students of color.
“As a black woman in the music industry, I know that more work needs to be done in regards to representation. I want my students to be able to look up at the Symphony Orchestra and see that there are people that look like them and, if they work hard, they will be able to achieve that same dream,” she said.
“I think that the Quad-Cities, and the world, need access to the beauty of music in an unprecedented time like this,” Sharpe said. “The Quad City Music Academy provides an opportunity for students to work together and experience the unity that comes with learning a musical instrument.”
She applied for the internship and “am so glad that I am able to be a part of this amazing program,” she said. “QCMA has the opportunity to reach so many people during the pandemic. Since they will be starting the semester virtually, students will have the opportunity to participate in a broad range of classes such as Private Lessons, Chamber Music, and even El Sistema. For some students, this may not have been possible; however, QCMA is working diligently to be able to give everyone the opportunity to be socially engaged in the wonderful art form of music.”
As an intern working remotely, Sharpe will work with Holman and other staff to do accounting, scheduling, social media, and maintaining the website. “Due to the pandemic, I am able to fulfill the internship tasks virtually, which may not have been possible if we were not in this unprecedented time,” she said.
Working with surgical precision
QCMA board president Joe Lohmuller, a Davenport-based surgeon, is thrilled with the possibilities. His wife Ann was a QCSO board member for three years; they’ve been regular symphony-goers since 1991, and first hosted Holman at their home for a salon concert about 10 years ago, attended by between 30 and 40 guests.
“It was spectacular. I had never personally met Hannah until that night,” Lohmuller said recently. “It just was a stunning musical performance. Hannah and her team introduced the pieces, talked about history of salon concerts.”
Holman (who lives in Iowa City and has an apartment in New York City) has since often stayed at their house before and after QCSO concerts.
“She’s just a charming individual, and second, we get to hear her practice,” he said. Holman also used their house as a set to record one of her series of videos on female cellists.
One reason Holman started the video project was the lack of awareness and actual number of women in top cello positions. In 2012, she was invited to attend a cello festival in Los Angeles.
“I thought, this is so exciting, but of 25 of the top cellists from all over the world, only one woman was there,” she said. “This is not representative; in schools it’s 50/50. What can we do to support and help women?”
“I feel like they’re definitely not lacking talent, they’re lacking support and encouragement,” Holman said.
Lohmuller and his wife got to hear her play with the New York City Ballet in February 2019, and got a backstage tour of the Lincoln Center theater. “She’s really something,” he said.
Of QCMA, Lohmuller said: “This is really a vision she’s had now for 10 years. I’ve had this privilege of visiting with her often at length, and she’s brought up this concept of increasing the education available, particularly for young people who may not have the opportunity to have high-quality lessons in string instruments.”
“Although I’m a physician, I’m also a small businessman,” he said. “I’m president of the Davenport Surgical Group, am on a number of nonprofit boards. With that, you not only have to be business-savvy, but be able to manage people, contracts, negotiate, retain specialists like lawyers and accountants, maintain a facility.”
The board (which includes QCSO trustee Trish Duffy and Sue Von Maur) has representatives of a wide variety of industries needed for the organization’s success – including law, business, finance, philanthropy, community development, marketing, and music, Lohmuller said. “Hannah has done a significant amount of research on this,” he said. They are currently in negotiations to lease a physical space in Davenport.
“That’s worked out really well, all that was going swimmingly, then the coronavirus hit,” Lohmuller said. “What do we do?”
“It kind of put the brakes on our ability to secure a space,” he said. “We realized that there’s no end in sight to our social isolation. It doesn’t mean the need in the community has changed one iota.
“If we’re going to be an organization that pursues this mission of providing a high level of music instruction, how do we do it? How can we make it work?” Lohmuller asked.
As they first pursue online learning, they’re also looking at space in Rock Island and are writing grant applications for funding. He said that Holman has “been able to recruit an outstanding slate of faculty.”
“If you look at the principal role of many classically trained musicians, where do they play?” Lohmuller said. “You play in an orchestra, having the experience not only of learning the music, but playing the music in its optimal environment, to play in an ensemble. You can play lessons all your life, but if you don’t play in a group, that’s a disadvantage.”
He said a main goal is also to prepare more musicians to secure spots in the QCSO, as home-grown talent, since many in the professional orchestra come from outside the region (like Chicago or Iowa City).
“It’s really just critically important. I think the school has a tremendous potential benefit to the community,” Lohmuller said.
A whole new world in teaching and performing
Holman’s last live indoor solo performance before the pandemic was at Carnegie Hall in New York, on March 3, playing one of the unaccompanied Bach cello suites, for a Bach Cello Suites Festival honoring their 300th anniversary. She played at the smaller (268-seat) Weill Recital Hall.
A friend of hers with the New York Cello Society wanted to put something together for the anniversary and she helped plan it.
“We had this idea to have six different people play one of the six suites,” Holman said. “Each have their own approach, to show how broad the Bach is. I did a traditional, not a progressive performance of the fourth suite. We had somebody rework one, he sang and juggled and played the cello. Another couple did a jazz arrangement of the third suite.”
She had played in the hall once before. “This was exciting. I hadn’t played solo Bach ever there,” Holman said. “It was such a treat. And I was pretty nervous, but the day before I was like, ‘OK Hannah, you’re playing at Carnegie Hall. Just enjoy it; you’ve done the work. Enjoy the hall and the fact that you got yourself here. I was able to be in the moment more and feel like I could really enjoy it.”
“We really dodged a bullet with the Verdi Requiem,” Holman said of the QCSO Masterworks done Mar. 7-8, just before things shut down. “I think about, it was such a huge orchestra and a huge choir. I think of it, and I was performing seven shows a week in New York, all of January and February, and the first gig we did was with Shanghai Ballet. I’m sure I was probably exposed, I don’t know. Luckily, I dodged a bullet too. It’s really terrifying.”
“It was such a bummer,” she said. “I was really excited this summer, I had a lot of work, then Boom, gone.”
Typically, Holman’s teaching schedule pre-Covid was three students a week in Iowa City, but now it’s more virtually (with students from the Q-C, and one who works at Juilliard in New York). In Michigan, she had 40 students a week, teaching more than playing.
“I have always loved both, but there has to be a balance,” she said. “It should be, one helps the other and vice versa. It’s been hard to keep a consistent teaching schedule, even with Zoom. With Zoom, I might be able to keep a more regular schedule, no matter where I am.”
“The hardest part about online is the sound, because the sound kind of shuts down on Zoom,” Holman said. “It’s helpful to have worked with people in person. A lot of these new students I will not have met in person. You can see a lot; it’s definitely different. In person, you get a bigger picture – how they’re holding the whole cello, and it’s different with sound.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of good work done with Zoom,” she said. “You can see each other mirroring each other better.”
She’s doing a combination of in-person and online teaching for UNI. Holman has started a UNI faculty string quartet and had a rehearsal, at a distance with masks on. She’s also a one-semester replacement for a conservatory in Los Angeles (all online), with one student from Indonesia.
She’s not sure when the NYC Ballet will start back in 2021.
Holman has a friend and colleague who teaches at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and taught this summer online for a St. Olaf cello program with 20 students from all over the world.
After participating in the Sept. 12 QCSO Riverfront Pops at LeClaire Park, she will perform (masked) for a virtual QCSO Signature Soiree fundraiser at 7 p.m. Sept. 19, with QCSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz and pianist Ghadeer Abaido from Jordan, a doctoral student at University of Iowa and Holman’s former housemate.
When the lockdown hit, the pianist and cellist started a Beethoven series, playing a Facebook Live every week, with cello sonatas.
Greenholtz saw one and was inspired to do Beethoven (“Moonlight” theme) for the fundraiser. This December marks the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth.
They will do a cello-piano version of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata (1801), a violin-piano “Clair de lune” (1905) by Claude Debussy, the first movement of Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio (1809), and the jazz standard “Fly Me to the Moon” (1954).
While you can watch the livestreamed performance for free, there will be a live auction and paddle raise in support of the QCSO’s music education programs, all hosted by Maestro Mark Russell Smith. By purchasing tickets ($125 each by Sept. 16) or joining the
Virtual Soirée Host Committee, ticket holders will receive a three-course dinner from the Hotel Blackhawk, QCSO chocolates from Chocolate
Manor, and an arrangement from Flowers by Staacks – all delivered to their home.
Following recommendations from the Scott County Health Department, the QCSO has altered its October, November and December programs – to cut the ensemble size in half, to about 40
musicians; allow only 25 percent capacity in the Adler for both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon concerts; require masks and social distancing, and eliminate intermissions and sale of concessions.
Instead of the massive Beethoven Ninth Symphony (“Ode to Joy”) originally planned for October, the QCSO will include the more compact Beethoven First, and Greenholtz soloing in the Beethoven Violin Concerto in November. Changes were made so that the orchestra and audiences feel comfortable coming back, Holman said.
“It’s again, like an opportunity,” she said. “There are some great works for smaller orchestra that we never get a chance to do, because we’re always trying to do big stuff.”
“People have asked, what’s it like to not play? I feel like I’m on a diet, where I’m not allowed any chocolate,” Holman said. “I’ve just kind of stopped thinking about chocolate and that’s how I feel about music right now. I kind of feel like, I’m not allowed to even think about it, ‘cause I’ll get too depressed.”
Her son, Matisse, is 15 and is doing school online. He also plays horn and piano and really has gotten into baking. Matisse and Hannah are both artists cooking up some great recipes.
For more information on the new school, visit quadcitymusicacademy.org. For tickets to the QCSO, call 563-322-7276 or visit qcso.org.