Professor and Music Department Chairman James A. Holleman is stepping down from his position as director of the college choir and chapel choir to be succeeded by Timothy McDonnell.
McDonnell will fill the positions of associate chairman of music and director of sacred music, both of which have been added this year.
“I have every confidence in the world that Dr. McDonnell will continue to grow the program,” Holleman said.
Holleman will continue to serve as the chairman of the music department, direct the chamber choir and college orchestra, conduct concerts, and act as the head of the professional artist series. He said he chose to divide the workload of the constantly growing choirs after almost 25 years of his colleagues telling him to slow down.
“It’s not in my nature to take on less,” Holleman said. “I’m back to what most people would call an overload, as opposed to an insane load.”
The growth of the choir, Holleman said, began when he came to the college in 1997. When he took on the choir in the spring of 1997, it was composed of a small handful of students and faculty. He said he told the school to expect an overnight change in the choir.
Holleman said his favorite part of conducting is building relationships with his students. The personal quality of vocal music and the enthusiasm and passion of the choir members makes conducting and directing a delight, he said.
The chamber choir also travels for performances often, he said, which means “breaking bread together” and further strengthening camaraderie. The more focused chamber choir, he said, is capable of handling a more complex repertoire, which allows for greater creativity and range of song choice.
The chamber choir and orchestra are as strong as ever, according to Holleman. On Dec. 4, Holleman will collaborate with McDonnell to put on a Christmas performance combining the chamber choir, college choir, and orchestra.
McDonnell said he respects Holleman.
“The level of engagement Dr. Holleman has cultivated is admirable, along with the energy with which the students come to choir,” McDonnell said. “He’s a good colleague, and we can work together to reach our fullest aspirations.”
Holleman said he and McDonnell have a good working relationship and he trusts McDonnell to take charge of the college and chapel choirs.
McDonnell has directed choirs for almost 30 years, and has taught music theory and orchestration at a university level for 15 years.
The chapel is what attracted him to Hillsdale, McDonnell said, as it represents Hillsdale’s commitment to the liberal arts.
In his new role, McDonnell said he aims to bring together these different interests and experiences through the use of images and analogies to open windows to the imagination and produce a sound that succeeds expectations. He said he believes it is important to build engagement with the members of the choir.
“We’ve got all kinds of backgrounds, interests, and majors in this large choral ensemble,” he said.
McDonnell’s goal is to encourage students to participate with their full body, mind, and soul.
“It’s a little bit like a circuit,” he said. “Some days the current is stronger than others, but when things really line up, it’s an electric experience.”
McDonnell said he plans to continue to instill principles of rightly approaching the text, taking into account the delicate interplay between lyrics and melody.
“I appreciate how precise he is in our warm-ups,” choir student and sophomore Paul Lindauer said.
By making members more aware of the principles and nuances of vocal technique, McDonnell said he plans to take the choir to even greater heights.
“He is turning us into professionals and challenging us in new ways,” junior Marie-Thérèse Romanos said.
“I love Dr. McDonnell,” freshman Colin Joyce said. “I experienced Dr. Holleman last year and am sad that I’m not taking him yet, but I have never had a better choir director than Dr. McDonnell. He’s certainly made me a better singer in just a few weeks.”
Joyce’s brother Luke had similar thoughts.
“Professor Holleman was the heart and soul of the choir for 24 1/2 years. He was the first one to hold the 4 year performance of the Messiah,” Luke said. “Professor Holleman will always have a place in my heart.”