Share / Discuss

Spotlight On … Nancy Noble Holland ’72

Nancy Noble Holland ’72, music director of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City, Calif., fulfilled a long-held dream in the fall: conducting Brahms’s Requiem with 80 performers.

"Of all the places I have studied," Holland says, "Swarthmore remains the gold standard of education. The personal care and respect of the professors, the excitement of fellow students, and the academic rigor of the program all stimulated my thinking and kept me on my intellectual toes in a way that I have found rare beyond Swarthmore. The friends I made there have been some of my closest throughout my life. 

"Despite the fact that I took not one music class at Swarthmore, my musical experience was rich and varied and at an incredibly high level for such a small institution. Jim Freeman gave me a flute solo in the Brandenburg Concerto #4 in my freshman year, I played in an 11-flute ensemble coached by Paul Zukovsky and Gilbert Kalish, and I sang in the Brahms Requiem, the work that had touched my heart the year before at my best friend’s memorial service. 

"Gil and Mary Stott invited all the strings and winds of the orchestra to their house to read through the Brandenburg Concerti, with homemade bread and cookies afterwards. And I sang in Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, complete with a candlelight procession, conducted by Ed Polochik. These experiences I will never forget. Such joyful music making with so many wonderful people shaped my desire to seek similar music making throughout my life. 

"I trained to become an English teacher at Swarthmore because I admired a high school English teacher, and I didn’t think I was a good enough musician to follow a musical career. It didn’t occur to me to pursue conducting, because there were no women conductors at the time. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to conduct a small choir at Chadwick School in Southern California when I was 30, and I found conducting as stimulating an intellectual pursuit as my experience at Swarthmore, and I loved collaborating with my students the way we had at Swarthmore. I decided to go back to school to retrain. My educational experience at Swarthmore had been so rich, I welcomed the opportunity to study again and learn a new profession. I continued my conducting studies well into my 60’s, juggling family and career, because I wanted to learn to conduct orchestras as well as choirs. Not until last year when I earned my doctorate in Choral Music at the USC Thornton School of Music, did I feel qualified to conduct my dream piece, the Brahms Requiem with orchestra. It was truly a dream come true, a dream I never imagined possible when I was at Swarthmore. 

"What I love most about what I do is that it’s collaborative. The singers, instrumentalists, and all the tech crew work together to create music in the moment. I feel like I’m a true conduit, connecting the music from the composer, developing it together with the musicians and offering it the audience. At Swarthmore, the personal love and attention from professors and students made me feel a part of something much larger than myself. I feel that way when I conduct. 

"My advice to current students is to follow your heart. If there is something out there calling to you, try it, no matter the obstacles that might seem to be in your way. Pursue what moves you to your core."