Esteemed conductor, director, and educator 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, David is currently the Chair of the Department of Music and Director of the university’s annual Choral Directors Institute.

David has been recognized as a leader in his field, and was the recipient of the SD-ACDA Encore Award for excellence and achievement in the field of choral music, as well as the prestigious Belbas-Larson Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor USD bestows on its educators. Choirs under his direction have been invited to perform at state and regional festivals and conventions, have won first place and grand champion awards in music festivals throughout the country, and have been honored with the American Prize for sustained excellence in Choral Performance.

Today, David is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to discover what happened when David tried moving a piano during rehearsal…

Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?

Growing up in the 80’s I was a big fan of Michael Jackson. Thriller was the first album I ever purchased. As I got a little older, I loved Boyz II Men. The soul with which they sang and their harmonies always interested me. I also really enjoyed Chicago, The Nylons, and Take 6.

When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

When I was in 9th grade I was selected as part of a National Honor Choir through ACDA. The experience was life-changing. Coming together in Louisville KY with singers from around the country who did not know each other at all and being able to create wonderful music was amazing to me. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be the person that could mold singers into a choir. I wanted to have that experience every day for the rest of my life.

What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?

In my first teaching job, I was conducting a men’s choir. The end of the piece had several repeats of a phrase. In the performance, the choir apparently lost count of how many repetitions remained. The entire choir just kind of stopped singing about a page before they were supposed to. I just kind of stopped conducting, turned around and bowed. It was very awkward.

Perhaps a more embarrassing story came from a rehearsal. I was working with my Concert Choir at the high school when I decided to move the piano to change the formation. When I pushed on the upright piano, the base did not move and the instrument toppled to the ground. I immediately sent the choir into sectionals and three guys helped me set it back up. Shockingly there was no damage and the piano’s tuning was not dramatically altered.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Sports. I love to watch, read, or listen to sports radio. I probably get too excited about my teams.

If you could make a living at any job in the world, what would that job be?

I honestly can’t imagine at this point not being a musician. I always wanted to be a choral director at a college or university. I would love to be able to travel more with my choir. I think being a touring artist would be such an amazing experience. The opportunity to perform in different places and share the musical message with more people would be the icing on the cake.

If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I have two answers to this question. My own personal refuge would be Hawaii. I love the ocean and beauty of the islands. As professional, I would love to spend more time in New York. The amount of artistic offerings and musical people is so great in that city. It would be wonderful to take the time to see and hear what these great professionals are doing. And it would be very exciting to work with these musicians in venues like Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.

If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?

Piano. I wish I played better than I do. I would love to be able to sit down and just read music at the keyboard. I did not have a piano growing up as a child so what little I do play has been learned as a student or through my work as a choir director.

What was your favorite musical moment on the album?

That is a very tough question. It is kind of like you asking me to pick my favorite child. I think the moment that most moves me is Jenny. It is an absolutely beautiful piece of music with poetry that cuts right to the heart. The first time I heard it I was working with a choir in a workshop and I almost couldn’t do the clinic because my emotions as a father got the best of me. I think about the pain of what it is like to lose a loved one and I hear beauty of this piece and message of hearing angels. The piece ends with the text “I love you so.” The pain juxtaposed with the love is all that is left in the heart. It is deeply moving. I think that piece really sets up the emotion of the end of the album.

What does this album mean to you personally?

I think it is a showcase of the wonderful choral musicians we have at the University of South Dakota. I am so proud of how far this program has come. The emotion and artistry these students display is wonderful. We talk in choir about sharing our hearts with the audience through the performance of this wonderful music. I think that message is portrayed. Each of us carries someone’s heart every day in all that we do. Personally, I think this album is all of the choir members and me carrying those hearts for each other.

Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?

Love. The world these days has become very divided. What we need is more love for each other and the beautiful parts of life. I think that if audiences listen to the album they will be taken on a journey of love. From the opening energy of life, through courtship, family, loss, and ultimately the hope of eternal life, the common element in all of this is love. Love can be personal or spiritual. It can be between two people or many. It can even be an expression of passion for what one is doing. I believe love motivates everything we do. I hope that the listeners’ hearts will be moved as they take this journey. I hope they laugh a little, cry a little, are inspired a little, and, in the end, they will love a little more after hearing this music.

I CARRY YOUR HEART will be available through Navona Records for streaming or purchase on January 11. Click here to pre-order.


  • 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.