The highly lauded and honored USD Chamber Singers bear a message of resilience with their newest release OUT OF THE ASHES, a collection of beloved choral works given a refreshing new voice. Led by conductor David Holdhusen, The Chamber Singers have given a new life to treasured gems of the choral repertoire and portray a bright future for artists and listeners alike.

Today, David is our featured artist in the “Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about David’s love for Minnesota sports and the impactful final performance he gave with the USD Chamber Singers before lockdown…

What emotions do you hope listeners will experience after hearing your work?

The biggest emotion I hope listeners will feel is hope. The events of the last 3–4 years have been very challenging for everyone. We have seen wars, political strife, and a pandemic in that time. These are just the events that affected everyone. Each person has had added challenges that are unique to them as well. This album is meant to take the listener through the hard times and allow them to rise from the ashes themselves. I think this album has powerful music that will touch each listener differently, but in the end, it is my hope that everyone will feel more hopeful after having taken this musical journey with the choir.

What’s the greatest performance you’ve ever seen, and what made it special?

This is a tough question. I can tell you the performance that meant the most to me at the time. It was March 13, 2020. This concert was the last performance before the world shut down for COVID-19. I was on tour with the USD Chamber Singers. It had been a wonderful trip. We had sung in great venues for great people, including a performance at the regional ACDA conference in Milwaukee. We were on our way home when things started to happen. The President made his speech, the NBA shut down, and word had come out that the spring semester would be paused. The night before I had met with the choir and told them of the university’s plan. The next day all of our school visit concerts were canceled. That night when we met before the concert there was so much unknown. We knew there was a chance that the choir would never sing together again. The concert was magical. We made new connections to the music and to each other. We sang as well as we ever had. When that night was over, you could feel it in the choir. No one wanted the last note to be cut off. There were tears and hugs and a welling of all kinds of emotions. There was so much uncertainty, but for one night everything was right and we were together. That is a night I will never forget.

What advice would you give to your younger self if given the chance?

Practice the piano! I might possibly be the worst piano playing conductor on earth. I did not have a piano in my home growing up. Unfortunately, I came to the keyboard very late. My musical skills far outpaced what my fingers could do and this was very frustrating to me. I wish I had put more time and energy into learning to play better. It would make many things in my musical life easier.

How do you prepare for a performance?

Performances are very personal and highly emotional for me. I truly believe that each concert tells a story that I want the audience to experience. In order to do that, I must also experience the story, which can be very draining. To prepare for this, I start by relaxing while getting dressed. I often call my wife and kids and talk about the day or anything else (especially when I am traveling with the choir). Once I am dressed, I begin to walk. I pace in circles, kind of like a tiger in a cage. I can’t be still. This is a way for me to expend energy and also focus on what is about to happen. Finally, I meet the choir and we warm up. I end by telling them to do 3 three to make a glorious performance. Those three things are: 1) Sing with intelligence. 2) Sing with passion. 3) Sing with heart. As a side note, since I got a FitBit, the choir always asks for my stats after a tour concert. They are so interested in how my heart rate fluctuates and how many steps I get during my pacing and the concert. 

What are your other passions besides music?

I am a huge sports fan. I love my Minnesota teams. They are a hard group to root for as they don’t win often, but I certainly enjoy the ride (until they inevitably break my heart). The next year comes around and I get right back on the ride. I was a baseball player growing up. I always hoped that I would be the catcher for the Minnesota Twins. Obviously, that never materialized. As a parent, I follow my kids interests. I know a lot more about tennis and swimming than I ever thought I would. It is so much fun to watch them do their thing. I also love live theater. I go to shows when I can and have always loved conducting musicals and operas. It is a different kind of musical expression, but I love the storytelling. This is probably where I get dramatic passion for my choral programs.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

I can’t see myself working in an office or as a laborer. I would probably be a coach of some kind. I love the learning process. I enjoy seeing people start something and through the course of practice and team building grow towards excellence. I am also a very competitive person. This would probably make coaching hard because I don’t like to lose. That is what is great about music. I get all the excitement of working towards a goal, but in the end everyone involved wins. There are so many similarities between athletics and music. It just seems like a natural place for me if I were not a musician.

  • University of South Dakota Chamber Singers

    Chamber Singers is the premiere vocal ensemble at the University of South Dakota. It is comprised of graduate and undergraduate students selected through audition from the entire university student body. Known to critics for “creating a choral concert of stunning beauty and musical understanding,” its repertoire, which is primarily a cappella, includes music from the Renaissance to the present in a wide variety of styles.

  • David Holdhusen

    Dr. David Holdhusen is the Director of Choral Activities and the Douglas and Susan Tuve Distinguished Professor of Choral Music at the University of South Dakota. His responsibilities include serving as conductor for the Chamber Singers and teaching courses in conducting. In addition to his teaching duties, Holdhusen is currently the Chair of the Department of Music and Director of the university’s annual Choral Directors Institute as well as the USD Summer Music Camp. He is also the co-founder and Executive Director of the Vermillion Children’s Chorus.