Q&A: Nate Holder

Hattie Fisk
Thursday, July 1, 2021

Recently appointed professor and international chair of music education at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), Nate Holder is also an author, writer, speaker and professional saxophonist. Hattie Fisk catches up with him

Nate Holder

HF: Congratulations on your new role! Can you tell me a bit about your mission as international chair?

NH: My mission is to see how these conservatoires actually work for the students from the other side and understand where the conservatoire wants to go and how I can help them get there, or at least assist on the way. I want to help the students feel that they have more of a voice – the role is about understanding young people and trying to give them what they need, what they want, and opening and broadening horizons.

HF: What is the motivation behind your music-focused children's books?

NH: I want to give voices to people who haven't had voices and to shine a light on those who we haven't really heard of for different reasons, whose music is incredible regardless of their backgrounds. I think that if kids can grow up and name composers like Florence Price, Amy Beach, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven in the same sentence, then we've done a lot in terms of establishing more equality, and allowing children with different backgrounds, genders, races, and so on to see themselves as equals.

HF: How do you think teachers can encourage students to pursue a career in music?

NH: As teachers, one way you can do it is just to broaden horizons – introducing children to certain concepts, ideas and jobs from as early as possible. So, they know that there's something called a sound engineer, for example – there are so many different jobs out there. But also, it's difficult because sometimes there's a lot of emphasis on teachers having to do everything. There is an element of having to model certain behaviours and continuing your practice so that students see that you're still going and you're still learning, as opposed to them seeing you as a finished article.

HF: How can we support children to continue playing their instrument?

NH: I think modelling and showing children that this is a lifelong process of learning. It doesn't stop when you get to Grade 8, it doesn't stop when you get to Grade 5 Theory. Sometimes a simple thing like repertoire can help – and I don't mean repertoire as in sitting and reading from scores – I mean I think we don't listen enough. We don't have a broad range of listening where it's not about picking up the harmonies and understanding the texture and the timbre. Instead, listening and enjoying and talking about it. It doesn't have to be anything more than that sometimes. But in that act, I think we can broaden students’ minds.

HF: Do you have any tips for bringing the topic of decolonisation into the classroom in a productive way?

NH: I think it's important to make it relevant to today. Look around the classroom – what's linked all this together? Why haven't you ever heard about this person before? Just linking it back to their everyday lives and helping them to understand is important. It's about getting kids to be critical and getting them to ask the questions they might not have thought about before. We want to encourage independent thinking and help them understand that these things that might have happened 200, 300 years ago have real world consequences for them now.

HF: What are your thoughts on the Model Music Curriculum?

NH: I tweeted about that quite a bit. Generally, I think there were missed opportunities, terrible uses of language, and terrible miscommunications. There was disregard for teachers as well. When it came to changes that were being made to the document on the fly, it just felt very detached. You're never going to appease everybody, but if you've made mistakes, I think it's important to acknowledge them. There are some positives you could take away from it – I don't think it's all negative. But maybe that's just my personality!

HF: As an accomplished professional saxophone player, what are your tips for young musicians?

NH: Listen to music – listen, listen, listen. Another tip is that it's okay to like something. Even if a song is not being studied in school, even though it might not have the most complicated harmonic structure or melody, it's okay to like it. There's no wrong way to do music, in my opinion. So, listen more, don't be afraid to be wrong, and just do what you enjoy.