Thomas Holm

Hitting the High Notes


Thomas Holm's main instrument is his voice. But the director of Northwestern's A cappella Choir and Heritage Singers can also play the accordion, trumpet, tuba and piano.

What spurred your initial interest in music?
My parents valued music and were willing to pay for lessons if I was willing to practice. I come from a large family—eight sisters, two brothers and two half-sisters—and we could play hymn arrangements with enough instruments to cover all the parts and then some.

What was the first record you ever purchased?
Probably Dallas Holm, although the first classical recording was George Handel's Messiah.

Who is your favorite musician?
There are too many to name (I do teach music history, after all), but I love the quality and variety that film composer Howard Shore brings to his works [Shore's long list of credits includes The Lord of the Rings films]. People in his line of work often default to cliché ideas, but he seems to put thought, imagination and craftsmanship into everything he writes.

You've conducted the A cappella Choir in the Crystal Cathedral and in the Salzburg Cathedral, where Mozart was baptized. Where else would you like to conduct or perform?
Because I have a love for historically significant spaces, three immediately come to mind: the St. Thomas Church in Germany where J. S. Bach worked and performed; the Esterhaza Palace and chapel in Hungary where Haydn lived and worked; and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, where so many great unaccompanied choral works were performed for the pope's private services.

During the summer months, you work as a roofer. How did you get into that business?
My wife and I had four children while I was in grad school, so roofing was a seasonally perfect activity that provided income. I would work on my studies and dissertation in the winter and do roofing in the summer. It turned out to be a great family activity—especially for my young boys, who benefited from learning a trade, building a strong work ethic and taking away good life lessons: namely, "Whining doesn't get the job done."

What are some of your hobbies?
I enjoy running, biking, reading and doing small repairs. My younger brother participates in a lot of outdoor sporting activities, and he recently introduced me to mountain climbing. Last year we climbed Pike's Peak in Colorado and the first half of Mount Rainier in Washington state, complete with an ice cave and snow shoes. My son Michael '06 has also gotten into mountain climbing and has climbed around half of the 53 Colorado peaks over 14,000 feet. I would love to attempt Mount Rainier's summit sometime, but it's difficult to train for a 14,000 foot glacier when you live at 1,400.

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