Interview Performed by Amanda Gribbin
Dr. Paula Holcomb is Director of Bands and Professor of Music at the State University of New York at Fredonia conducts the Wind Ensemble and oversees the extensive band program. She developed and implemented the highly successful and internationally recognized Masters of Music in Conducting degree program and teaches graduate and undergraduate conducting. She has also held conducting symposiums with Gene Corporon, Mallory Thompson, Craig Kirchhoff, Tim Reynish, Gary Hill, Alan McMurray, and Mark Scatterday.
Delta Lambda sister Amanda Gribbin reached out to Dr. Holcomb about her experiences as a woman in music, and how she has worked to become as successful as she is today.
Amanda: As a sister of Sigma Alpha Iota, what impact do you feel that your membership has had on your musical career and on your life?
Dr. Holcomb: As an undergraduate, we connected with alums in the area who served as mentors. One became my pianist and is a role model to this day.
A: As a woman in music, do you feel that you have faced any specific challenges? If so, what are they, and how do you feel that you have worked to overcome them?
DH: Mr. John P. Paynter, Director of Bands at Northwestern University told me that I would have to be three times as better than any man so that I could be hired in a position which was half as good. I knew he was right so I just worked hard.
A: In your early career as an aspiring musician, performer, conductor, etc., who or what do you think inspired you to strive for greatness? Is there anything or anyone that inspired you back then that still drives you today?
DH: I owe my career to many!! Lois Nichols, my High School Choral conductor, was the
first and only woman conductor I was under. My undergraduate institution never had brass principals who were female principal until I was principal horn and my friend, Laura Lorenzen Currie was principal trombone. She poked me with her trombone slide one day and said there is a Band and Choir conducting job at Ellsworth Community College so I became a college conductor. Next Don Marcouiller, Director of Bands at Drake University for whom I had a work study assignment as an undergraduate inspired me every day to become better. He encouraged me to apply for a position at a four year institution which was unheard at that time, yet he saw potential in me which I had not seen in myself. Mr. Paynter, Director of Bands at Northwestern University, who was a superb musician, rehearsal technician, leader, visionary and mentor, opened many doors for me. Paul Vermel, Aspen Conducting Faculty, taught me musicianship and conducting clarity. In addition, I studied with Dick Oldberg and Norm Schweikert, horns from the Chicago Symphony, observed lessons with Arnold Jacobs who was tubist with the Chicago Symphony, and Jay Friedman, principal trombone who has mentored me extensively. Each day I learned from their incredible musicianship, mentoring and conducting. In addition, I attended as many Chicago Symphony rehearsals and concerts as I could. At each rehearsal and concert throughout high school, college, Chicago Symphony or anywhere, I tried to second guess what the conductor/teacher would do next, wrote down what they said, listened to their musical phrasing choices, and watched how they taught, conducted and mentored.
A: Do you think that the role of women in music has evolved over time? If so, how do you think it has changed?
DH: We have evolved but have a long way to go. In 1977, I was one of the first women to become a college band conductor. In fact, the quote was, “They hired a what??” among other quotes. By 2004, only 10.4% of the conductors were women yet approximately 65% of the public school instrumentalists are female so we have some work to do.
A:Sigma Alpha Iota is an organization that is founded on the idea of empowering and bringing together women in music. How do you feel that these principles benefit the musical community as a whole?
DH: Having guest conducted and taught at the national and international and initiated, facilitated and conducted ensemble tours to Mexico, Canada and China, I found that hearts connect when one plays side by side with a person from another culture. We can change the world through these connections rather than by force and war. Music and the arts connect hearts as one has to listen to the person next to you in order to make music. You hear their voice and soul.
A: Is there anything that you would like to add that you feel was not covered by these questions?
DH: Thank you for the opportunity to thank my mentors! I stand on their foundation and am very grateful to each of them as well as every student. What an honor to make music with amazing people everyday! Remember what a privilege it is!!