Studio Visit: Christopher Holman

Studio Visit: Christopher Holman

Christopher Holman, 25, of Houston and formerly of Champaign, is an organist specializing in early music and Bach. He is the music associate for Bach Society Houston and at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois and The High School of St. Thomas More.

Tell me about your gigs this month at BachFest in Leipzig, Germany.

The Bach Society Houston's Bach Choir, for which I play the organ, is the first professional American choir to receive an invitation to perform at BachFest. We'll perform twice in the BachFest.

We'll be in central Germany two-and-half weeks, so we'll pretty much perform almost every day in other contexts, like churches. The most notable one is the Castle Church in Wittenberg. It's particularly famous because Martin Luther nailed his 99 theses to the doors of that church. We'll also perform in the Merienkirche in Berlin.

The BachFest is probably the biggest Bach festival in the world and takes place in venues throughout the city, with many being the churches where Bach spent most of his career and created his most important music.

So this is the first time you've gone to BachFest?

Yes. Very few Americans have ever performed in BachFest. They like to use local musicians, of course. We're not just performing as part of BachFest. We're actually musical ambassadors for America. Our job there is to represent the high level of performance, scholarship and research here on Bach's music. That's something that transcends time and cultures. It's a tremendous honor to do that.

What will you do after BachFest?

I have received grants from the Frank Huntington Beebe Fund for Musicians that will allow me to perform Bach and research historic organs throughout Europe, for at least a year. I will be based at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland. It should be great.

What kinds of organs have you played?

In the United States or really North America, we don't have many organs built before the 1800s. Because I'm a specialist in 17th- and 18th-century music, most of the organs I've played have been copies of historic organs or instruments that are heavily based on the historic organs in Europe.

I have played on organs in Mexico that are actually from the early 18th century that were built by the Aztecs under the guise of the Spanish colonists. But part of what made my grant proposal successful was the simple fact that studying and performing on antique organs is simply not possible on this continent.

As part of the grant, I will be doing research on Swiss renaissance music. There are special manuscripts in the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis library. So I hope to be able to publish something about them.

Did you get all of your degrees at the U of I?

No, just undergraduate. I received my master's in organ performance at the University of Houston.

When and why did you start playing the organ?

I started playing when I was about 11 at Shiloh United Methodist Church outside of Mahomet. I was hired to play piano there. They had a little electronic organ, and I thought, I'm in a church, so I might as well learn to play the organ. There was a wonderful pastor there named Elizabeth Reis, and she gave me a chance.

I took a few organ lessons and initially really hated it. So I quit studying the organ — I could play hymns. Then when I was 15, I was at (Professor) Dana Robinson's at the U of I. He's very passionate about all organ music but particularly early organ music. He's really interested in showing his students writing by the masters — treatises, documents about how the masters played their music. Then we try to replicate that the best we can. I was completely enthralled, and the rest is history.

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