Dr. Joe Holt, Conductor and Artistic Director of Choral Artists of Sarasota, Joins the Club

Dr. Joe Holt, Conductor and Artistic Director of Choral Artists of Sarasota, Joins the Club

After spending 20 years as the principal pianist with the United State Army Band, Dr. Joe Holt decided it was time retire to a place that met three criteria:  by the water,  warmer weather and less politics than Washington D.C., and cultural arts opportunities. He found all of that in Sarasota, Florida.
In 2008, he  became the conductor and artistic director of Choral Artists of Sarasota,  our region's premier professional vocal ensemble, and his musical tentacles have been far reaching ever since.
This week, you will hear about Choral Artists of Sarasota's upcoming season, but also about a very special performance of a community chorus Joe has organized for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, sponsored by the Sarasota Ministerial Association. That performance will take place on Saturday, September 11 at 6:00 p.m. at Patriot Plaza on the grounds of the Sarasota National Cemetery. Registration is free for this event.
Do you remember where you were on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001? Joe Holt does, as he lived across the street from the Pentagon. Hear his story of being an Army Bandsman on that fateful day and much more on this week's episode of the Suncoast Culture Club podcast. Come along and join the club!

• Choral Artists of Sarasota Website & Facebook & Twitter & YouTube

• 20th Commemoration of 9/11 Performance Free Registration Link

State College of Florida Music Program Website & Facebook & Instagram

Support the show (https://scf-foundation.org/suncoastcultureclub/)


Robyn Bell: This week, I am joined in studio with one of the Suncoast, most talked about musicians and arts leaders, Dr. Joseph Holt, who wears many hats in our area. Most notably as the conductor for our region's premier professional vocal ensemble, the Choral Artists of Sarasota. Now I say the most talked about because Joe. I don't think there is a single podcast interview I do where your name doesn't come up and I'm serious. I try to tag you in Facebook, but you're not taggable so, , if you listen to our episode, you'll hear Joe Holt every single time.

Joe Holt: Are you sure they're not talking about police reports? 

Robyn Bell: No, no. Nor or obituaries. It is really all the more reason to talk to you today. So Joe Holt welcome back to the club. 

Joe Holt: Oh, thanks Robyn. It's great to be here with you.

Robyn Bell: The last really only time I talked to you for the podcast was over a year ago when you were still the artistic director Artists Series Concerts, a role for what you have stepped away and violinists Dan Jordan has stepped into, and we learned a lot about you from that podcast, but we didn't really dive into the Choral Artists of Sarasota an organization you have been leading since 2008. So let's take the opportunity to tell the world about this choral ensemble, how you came to be their conductor and this season's awesome lineup of performances. 

Joe Holt: So the, Choral Artists of Sarasota was actually born as Gloria Musicae, back in 1979 and the founders were Arden Fowler, a singer from New York City who wanted to have some more professional opportunities for herself and her colleagues here in Southwest Florida. George Bledsoe was the. And Ann Stephenson. Moe was also a co-founder. So, and I mean, she wasn't Moe at that point, she was Anne Stevenson. And she is still very much active in this area and actually serves on our board. So it's really terrific to have that come full circle in that regard the organization as you say, from the outset has always set the bar high by employees. Professional singers to participate in this organization.

Robyn Bell: And how many singers would you say you have? 

Joe Holt: it's varied over the years. I currently keep it at around 40 that's, actually 32 professional singers. And then we have a program that's called the apprentice program where we bring in. Two singers per section. So that's two sopranos, two altos, two tenors, two bases. And they are typically from either our high schools or our local colleges. Yeah. 

Robyn Bell: Yes. I was about to say we've had many students participate in that 

Joe Holt: here have participated in going on to greater things. I mean, it's really terrific to see that happen. Sometimes we get singers who come in from the Sarasota youth opera and it really is exciting. See that dynamic added into the organization as well as you have to see them grow as music. 

Robyn Bell: Right. But your core adult paid professional singers is 32. 

Joe Holt: It's 32. Correct. And so we've been in existence now for 42 years. I've been, as you said, here since 2008 have loved being here in Sarasota. I was actually wooed here by June Labelle. 

Robyn Bell: Okay. Yes, 

Joe Holt: she was the one that offered me the position at the time. And she knew I was moving into the area, but we really hadn't any plans for any work or anything. We were just going to be moving to the area and she offered me the job at that point and said, you know, we'd really love to have you on board and it's been a great ride.

Robyn Bell: So let's take a pause for a second and talk about your move here because you spent 20 years. With the Army Chorus 

Joe Holt: I was with the United States Army Band in Washington, DC. Right. Where I worked primarily with the United States Army Chorus 

Robyn Bell: because they work in tandem together, the Band, and the Chorus, they do things together.

Joe Holt: Absolutely. There's also an orchestra in that organization, a jazz band all, all sorts of other smaller. Musical ensembles. There are almost 200 musicians in the United States Army Band, 

Robyn Bell: and you lived in Washington DC, you accompanied the chorus you played when the band needed piano parts.

Joe Holt: Right? Sometimes I would it with a band or sell it with the orchestra depending upon the need. And so I got a chance to not only play, some of those wonderful things, but also to go inside the White House and see the, the inner workings of the White House and other places. I mean, Congress, we would play at, we would perform for generals visiting dignitaries. I mean, the queen of it. As you know, one of our great favorites that we'd love to paying for, 

Robyn Bell: you know, as a musician, can you think of a more perfect career? It's like the best job ever,

Joe Holt: you know, Robyn all of our careers are like the little, tapestries, you know, whatever, you know, cloth we put up on the tapestry that makes it pretty, you know, or at least interesting. And sometimes it's a little bit more dramatic than others, but every musical career is uniquely different. There's no, No, there's no blueprint,

Robyn Bell: but people that I know that play in the military bands in DC in particular, they get a nice salary and 20 years they get a wonderful retirement. They get to play music all the time, and then they kind of have enough free time to do other musical endeavors as well. Right.

Joe Holt: That's one of the beauties of being with the bands in Washington, DC, is that they employ you. You know, they find the best. Musicians possible because we have to be able to produce performances on a dime. Literally we would learn something in the morning and perform at that night. That's how quickly you had to be, at your craft, and that adept. But they knew that he couldn't keep you actively engaged as a musician. All the time, you know, musicians they tend to be curious and we want to be active and we want to be doing things. So we seek out other opportunities and the military allowed us to do that so that if we weren't on military time, I mean, basically they own us 24 7. Sure. But. 

Robyn Bell: My tax money.

Joe Holt: Exactly. But they also allowed us to pursue some other activities. So in the DC area. I mean, I was already known as a musician. I grew up in the DC area and so I was able to continue my freelance career and ultimately became the Associate Music Director for the Choral Arts Society of Washington

Robyn Bell: well, that's where I was going. Because as a piano player, as an accompanist, as a soloist, in order to prepare you for what you do here now, you had to have gotten some sort of choral conducting experience, 

Joe Holt: but there's a missing ingredient that you don't know. 

Robyn Bell: Oh, I can't wait. 

Joe Holt: That is when I was in my teens. I discovered opera. And I always had a love for voice. I would play the piano at home and my parents would sing and she always say, we'd have this nice repartage going. And I just always loved. Vocal things. So in my teens, I discovered opera and musicals. I mean, that was the other thing. Yeah. And my big dream was actually to be an opera conductor. 

Robyn Bell: Oh no, this I did not know.

Joe Holt: Yes. That was my big dream. But when I went off to the Eastman School of Music, they said, well, we don't have a conducting degree for undergrad. So you have to do an instrument, you know? Well, I bet. I mean, I played the piano, so I said, okay, well then. Take piano and my career took an entirely different track 

Robyn Bell: than what you had hoped for. 

Joe Holt: But I took all the conducting when I was at Eastman. So I at least had the training, but it wasn't until the mid nineties, when I actually got back into it, by being associated with the Choral Arts Society of Washington.

Robyn Bell: That's an interesting point because I had a conversation, did a podcast interview with a guest conductor of the Sarasota Orchestra who brought this up as well. He said only in America. Can you not get an undergraduate degree in conducting? You can only get a master's. He says in Europe, you go straight into, as an undergraduate doing conducting. And I don't know why that is. Start that here at State College of Florida. 

Joe Holt: Exactly. You would be the forefront. 

Robyn Bell: Well, that's about it. I need a sound effect for that. Okay. So in your spare time, you were doing this choral conducting in Washington, DC. And so here, it's coming upon your 20 years. And I guess you could have stayed longer, but maybe the countdown begins. 

Joe Holt: Well, actually, we had started the countdown five years prior to that. And I did have a countdown towards that magic 20, because that is the point at which you can wait, you don't have to, right. I could have stayed much longer, but I based it on several criteria and one was, you know, there's a promotion factor. Had they promoted me into the next rank, which would have been the highest rank in the military of Sergeant Major. Then I would have stayed an additional period. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah, cause that is more money 

Joe Holt: Yes it is. But it's also, the respect, the rank, and, you have a little bit more responsibility and it was where I was headed.

Robyn Bell: I see. 

Joe Holt: So, when the, time for the promotion came up the year before I was to leave. When I was thinking about leaving, I was waiting for that and that was going to be the bellwether and when I didn't get it, I determined at that point. Okay. Now it's time to start the process. We had already been looking at Sarasota as a location. 

Robyn Bell: Okay. Let me ask you, how did that come about? How'd you say, oh, I'm going to throw a dart and landed on the Suncoast. 

Joe Holt: We had several criteria. Yeah. When we were looking at places to move to after Washington DC, one had to be, near water. Near an airport hopefully better weather than the Washington DC, hopefully outside of the, political environment, because everything in Washington is very political. And you know, it, invades everything. I mean, everything. So the Army Chorus was actually tasked to do performances down here in 2005. So we came down here and we had friends that lived here. They'd moved here from, actually they lived in our same condo building in Arlington, Virginia. They had already moved down here and said, you gotta come down here sometime. So we came down, checked it out, you know, and I think fell in love with it within about 18 hours. It didn't take very long to realize that this is a very special place. And then for the, ensuing couple of years, we would come down every couple of months. Check out the real estate check out the scene. That's when I met June Labelle. I just reached out to, find out, you know, would there be, opportunities for a musician like me moving into this area?

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Oh gosh. Did you have any idea? You're probably busier now than maybe you were with the army. 

Joe Holt: That's probably true. Yeah. But, yeah, it's interesting because in the military, and even with Choral Arts in DC, I was always somebody second, think about that and always doing what someone else wanted to do. So now I get this opportunity, post military post choral arts, where I'm the one that's in charge. So I get to do the things I want to, 

Robyn Bell: and probably like me, what I discovered when I moved down here as well. Somebody found somebody that was willing to work hard and put out good product, then it just kept piling on, can you come do this? Can you come do this and this? And I say yes to everything. Cause I just loved the experiences. And I think you and I are buddies. 

Joe Holt: Yeah. You and I, I think we were born in the same day, not the same year, cause I'm definitely a lot older, but 

Robyn Bell: brothers from another mother, they say. 

Joe Holt: We are like-minded in that regard because yeah. I mean, there's also the, unique. Challenge that we have as musicians. You know, you don't want to be pigeonholed per se, but we do have our specialties and, things that we're really good at right. Yet, we don't want to be limited by those because you want to expand your experiences and your opportunities and, it helps you to grow as a musician.

Robyn Bell: So who was the conductor of Gloria Musicae before you became the conductor 

Joe Holt: name was Elwood Smith. And he had been the director. I think he's 

Robyn Bell: a blues. No, there's a different,

Joe Holt: I'm sorry. He he, I think it was the conductor for almost 10 years in the scheme of things. And, he had reached the end of his tenure with the organization and that's how. Yeah. I was able to come in at the time. 

Robyn Bell: So you're 32 people. Let's say someone moves out of the area. How do you then say, oh, I have a spot to fill in. What is the audition process? If somebody listened to this podcast say, oh, I would love to be a part of this group. What do they have to do? 

Joe Holt: So the process of auditioning is actually pretty easy because I only required to hear two selections in contrasting styles. One in. The other has to be a foreign language. Okay. So I get to assess their musical skills their communication skills, not only in English, but also in a foreign language and you know, you and I work with a lot of musicians and some of them are just so extraordinary. Yeah. They just speak through the medium, whatever that medium is. You, you just feel the art coming through them and they channel it. And, so that's what I'm really looking for in the long run is someone who can really be so in tune with themselves. And so in tune with their, musical ability that they don't get in the way.

Robyn Bell: And so they would go to your website, Choral Artists of Sarasota. Click, about or contact there's 

Joe Holt: auditions, there's audition material. There, we get in touch with our chorus manager and then we set up auditions. We typically have auditions in the late spring and the summer. This year has been the, as we know the world I heard on its end, so everything was, changed. And so we've just finished the audition process. 

Robyn Bell: Okay. And then once your chorus is set that's your season group right there? 

Joe Holt: Yes and no. And at this particular year that doesn't work that way because we're still mindful that we're in this pandemic time. We've reduced the amount of singers that'll be singing for the fall. In hopes that by the time we do our, first big full-scale production in February of 2022, that we'll be able to bring the whole group back together. 

Robyn Bell: And is it similar, like, like in band, when I'm setting the instrumentation for band or even an orchestra like going, I won eight first violins. I went ten second violins, maybe six. Eight cellos five basis. That's kind of the perfect number for me. It was 32 or really 40 with your apprentices. Is it 10, 10, 10, 10? 

Joe Holt: No. 

Robyn Bell: Okay. How do you, how do you do those numbers? 

Joe Holt: Hands. You know, and it depends upon the vocal strengths that are presented to me.

Robyn Bell: And maybe the literature that you've picked as well? No, 

Joe Holt: actually, yes, but first I start with the vocal strengths, you know? So if you have, , a soprano section that might need, just a little bit of beefing up and you might actually have 11 or 12. Okay. Yeah. And then you make an exception. Or somewhere down the line, you know, like you may have only nine Altos because they happened to be very strong. Right. And typically Altos, I don't know what it is.about the altos, 

Robyn Bell: I'm an alto. 

Joe Holt: They are the best. I mean, they get the best lines, right. They usually are the on top of everything. And then. Just such incredible characters too, as I can tell, as I'm looking here, 

Robyn Bell: I mean, I can sing soprano and Alto, but I love the Alto part. Give it to me. I want the Alto part. 

Joe Holt: Yeah. So the then the music actually dictates a lot, the music I've chosen for a season then dictates, what do I need? For this particular performance for this particular piece, for example, I mean, you know, this full well to in a symphony orchestra, you wouldn't necessarily have your full orchestra playing an early Mozart symphony. It just would, it would be. Perverse right. To have that heaviness, you know, when it's supposed to be light and airy. Right. You know, so, and then we did conversely, if you're doing like Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Yeah. 

Robyn Bell: You don't have a chamber orchestra. Yeah.

Joe Holt: A group of five people playing that. It would be sound like a little odd. 

Robyn Bell: Yes. Well, so speaking of that in the music that you've chosen, let's talk about your season. That is called the entire season called carried away. I love that title and it begins on Sunday, November 7th with a concert version of Leonard Bernstein's fabulous musical On the Town, and you're doing this at the Riverview Performing Arts Center. How did this come together? 

Joe Holt: So the entire season, what I could have done is actually just move. 2021 to 21, 22. Right. And some people have done that. I mean, you know, I mean the artistic, 

Robyn Bell: we kind of did that with the Pops. We changed one concert, but yeah, 

Joe Holt: it would be easy to do because programs we had already planned. When I looked at what I planned for 2021, I realized it really didn't fit at this point at this juncture. I'm going to delay that for at least another season because I had some more heavy-duty material in it. Yeah. That was maybe thought provoking and challenging. And I think. It might be best to wait, cause it's up for this year because we've been through so much over these past 18. So good. Cool. Yeah. Well, I hope, and the whole idea of Carried Away is that, I feel like we've been squirreled away, for the past 18 months to a certain extent. And that it's time to, you know, to invade us, envelop us and carry 

Robyn Bell: us away. Exactly. Yeah. Beautiful. 

Joe Holt: So what seemed like a perfect way to start out? Because everybody wants to be. And about on the town and yeah, 

Robyn Bell: it's, what's better than Leonard Bernstein.

Joe Holt: It's an iconic musical that it's just probably one of the best. Certainly the best known of his works outside of West Side Story. Sure. Yeah. And as a piece, it's got so much great music in it, it was written in the, forties and, just has that wonderful vibe to it. And, it's so American. Yeah. When you think of these three sailors who arrive into New York, they've never been in New York before, and they're going to be out in, not out on the town, creating havoc and having amazing experiences is you can only have in New York City. 

Robyn Bell: And do you have some guests, artists for this?

Joe Holt: So we have a couple, a couple of guest singers. New to us. They're actually been a part of our organization, but Jenny Kim Godfrey is going to join us. Who's 

Robyn Bell: fabulous.

Joe Holt: Fabulous soprano and 

Robyn Bell: nothing. She doesn't do. That's just, yeah, 

Joe Holt: exactly. And Louis Gonzalez, we also know, he was my assistant conductor for a long time

Robyn Bell: and I believe he used to teach here at the State College Florida 

Joe Holt: Exactly. It's going to be a wonderful experience with the majority of the solos are coming from within our ranks, but we've engaged these two to be part of it. And it's just such a fun, happy . Toe tap in the middle of it. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. It's one of my favorite pieces and I can't wait to attend and to hear this so then next concert scheduled for Sunday, December 19th at the Church of the Redeemer. This is called Bells and Brass. And I'm going to tell you there's nothing I don't like about that title as a, you know, Robyn Bell and a brass player. So what does this concert hold in store for? 

Joe Holt: Well, I hate to tell you that that concert is now morphed into something else.

Robyn Bell: Oh no. I found this on your website. Dang it. 

Joe Holt: Sorry. 

Robyn Bell: That's okay. Tell us about it. 

Joe Holt: So we were having a little bit of difficulty with the bell issue for this. Sorry, not you personally, but just the bell issue because a lot of the bell organizations in the area have not been rehearsing. And we also have a space issue at Church of the Redeemer. It's a smaller space church. So it was just going to be a little bit too cramped. And with those challenges placed before us, we decided to change that it's still okay. So at least half of you is happy, 

Robyn Bell: 50% fulfilled, 

Joe Holt: but the the program is now called What Sweeter Music. Okay. What Sweeter of Music rate John Rutter piece called What Sweeter Music that typically played right at the Christmas time for holiday performances. And so I borrowed that title for this, and it's basically, Organ and brass, there might be an occasional bell that we're able to, you know, so we'll have a little bit of color from a bell, but it won't be specifically about bells 

Robyn Bell: and who's playing organ. 

Joe Holt: Sam Nelson.

Robyn Bell: Oh, yes. Who took over from Anne Stevenson mo right?

Joe Holt: Yeah. So it's going to be one of his even song type performances that he does on Sundays at the church. It's not necessarily the even song, but it's at the time slot that he would have presented and even song. Okay. So that's how I've 

Robyn Bell: heard wonderful things. I haven't got a chance to hear him perform yet, but everybody says he's just fabulous.

Joe Holt: He's a phenomenal musician. And of course his wife is the wonderful mezzo soprano, Thea, Lobo. Yeah. And she's going to be here. 

Robyn Bell: What was a two for one there 

Joe Holt: where she's not appearing at this particular performance, but 

Robyn Bell: I mean, for the Suncoast for Sarasota, when he came here and we got a twofer deal, as they say in Texas, too, for, 

Joe Holt: I think they call it BOGO at Publix.

Robyn Bell: Yes, that is true. It just makes me. Jumping on a Pogo stick. I get it all confused every time. Sorry. That's a 

Joe Holt: wonderful arrangements by the Canadian Brass. Oh yeah. 

Robyn Bell: Kind of a local connection for 

Joe Holt: us connection because we have Ron Romm, right. And Brandon Ridenour. His parents live here. 

Robyn Bell: Yes. Yes. Brandon Ridenour is performing with my Bradenton Symphony Orchestra during the Carnival of Venice in October. 

Joe Holt: Oh. Oh, we'll have to come here. That that's excellent. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah, we're doing Carnival of the Animals, Carnival of Venice and Roman Carnival Overture. 

Joe Holt: Oh,

Robyn Bell: it's all about carnivals. 

Joe Holt: Well, that's going to be colorful. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. 

Joe Holt: So Brandon is associated with them too, but anyway, I found these wonderful arrangements of, the Canadian Brass and chorus. So it's a great combination including a very wacky 12 Days of Christmas and just pure Canadian Brass, no brass players tend to be, you know, character.

Robyn Bell: Yes. 

Joe Holt: Right? 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Well, I've heard, so I've been told 

Joe Holt: bit of personal experience with that, I think. 

Robyn Bell: Okay. So you've morphed that concert. It still sounds fabulous. And then on Sunday, February 20. At the Church of the Palms, one of my favorite performance spaces, all those opera fans out there, and you who wanted to be an opera conductor, get their fix with A Night at the Opera. You have some very special guests solos for this one. Right? 

Joe Holt: Right. So. Artists of Sarasota Adelaide, Boedecker. Yeah. She grew up here. She actually attended Church of the Redeemer. She was a member of the Sarasota Youth Opera. Went on homegrown, went on to school here in Florida, but then, got her master's at the Eastman School of Music, became a spokesperson for the Eastman School of Music for a couple of years. And now, she's traveling around the country. Singing in Santa Fe and she was at Pittsburgh Opera for a long time. And she sung here a couple of times with the Sarasota Opera. She has performed with us. On occasion. I mean, When, the Sarasota Orchestra asked me to do a holiday program about, nine or 10 years ago we ended up engaging her. To be the soloist so that we did a concert with a then Gloria Musicae that Sarasota Orchestra and Adelaide Boedecker was the soloist and just bring back. Yeah. So she'll be back. And she's now married and her husband is Calvin Griffin. Wonderful bass. baritone Really got another test for there. So another two, exactly. Maybe I should have called this the duo year or something 

Robyn Bell: on the podcast. We call it couples week couples. We interviewed couples. And so, you know, I'd say to anybody, I would love to interview them when they're in town. But you know, when you're gearing everything up for this concert.

Joe Holt: Well, and they're here frequently too, because her parents still live here, you know? So she's in and out of Sarasota frequently. They live at, currently in Atlanta. 

Robyn Bell: It's a great town. 

Joe Holt: Yeah. Not a bad place to live. 

Robyn Bell: So you're doing all opera stuff, 

Joe Holt: all opera stuff. And and they're gonna do a lot of Mozart in the midst of that. Beautiful duets that we have featured in that the Chorus is going to sing some things and we probably have a little special guests. There's going to show up. 

Robyn Bell: Oh, okay.

Joe Holt: Yes. The Phantom of the Opera was going to make an appearance. Yeah. So there's a little bit of levity in the midst of it. I mean, that's great music, you know, that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote, but it's also, from the musical, not necessarily the opera, but it does have some great things. 

Robyn Bell: Yes. Yes. Well, that just sounds really fun. And then the next concert, Sunday, March 20th at the First Presbyterian Church, the title is She Is the Music. And this one is a Women's History Month celebration, right? 

Joe Holt: History Month is indeed, March every year. 

Robyn Bell: You're a smart man. 

Joe Holt: And we always just capitalize on, what's presented to us, you know, and it makes sense to highlight MAs. Th how this concert came about is that a year ago when I had to re-imagine entire season, much like you did, right. You know that the first program we did was a music of LGBTQ plus composers throughout history. Well, I found an amazing body of works by women composers we only presented two of them in the midst of this program. I decided, you know what? We really need to have a program adjust women know why women and some of these women are famous. And they have famous names, for example Fannie Mendelson, the sister of Felix and Clara Schumann, the wife of Robert Schumann, 

Robyn Bell: right?

Joe Holt: Alma Mahler, the wife of, Gustav Mahler we're not going to present any of her works, but nonetheless, here are these famous named people who were composers in their own right, and we don't know them necessarily as this and we should, 

Robyn Bell: we should. Yeah. Because their music is fantastic,

Joe Holt: and there's some other women, throughout the 20th century there's a woman I've been fascinated by recently Florence Price. 

Robyn Bell: Oh yes, no, yes. I know Florence Prices music. 

Joe Holt: Well, yeah, to discover that she had all these works that she had written that have been squirreled away in some attic somewhere. And it's only been. 10 15 years that we even know that about this body of music.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Yeah. Another one. Yeah. Amy Beach. I don't know. Do you, your stuff is just really great. And several years ago, maybe six or seven years ago here with the Symphonic Band at the college, I did a women's composer concert. We called it. Let's Hear it For the Girls, you know? And that was fun. And we had all women soloists as well. You know, if there was a, a piece with a solo. So I love these kinds of concerts because it really gives these people a space for their music that is not often programmed to be programmed and celebrate.

Joe Holt: Right. And as we've seen in the past couple of years now, reference to things that, have a little bit of social upheaval about them, the me too movement. Right. And then black lives matter, but it's really brought to the fore that, for us who her artists, that there's a whole panoply of musical material out there. That's not by some. Sorry, just, I'm going to say it. White man, the old or the dead white man musical museum, I call it. We also have one of the first female composers Hildegard. So she's going to be in this program as well. So we'll see, you know, how through the centuries, how this works, Thea Lobo's our guest artists for that.

Robyn Bell: Okay. Sam's wife. 

Joe Holt: Yeah. So that's gonna be fantastic to feature her. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. I'm really looking forward to that and I'm proud of. An organization in our town is doing this kind of concert. So good for you. And then I know we've been waiting a very long time for your final performance of the year. You're laughing because this will be on Sunday, April 24th at the Sarasota Opera House called Listen to the Earth. This was a commission Joe that was supposed to be performed in April, 2020. And you and I had had extensive talks about this long ago. And we all know what happened about a month before that. So you must be very excited to finally present this one. Tell us about Listen to the Earth. 

Joe Holt: So you know how we have computer programs or apps that come out with , version 2.1 or version 2.3. This is Listen to the Earth Redux or something, you know, it's just that. How it's been so long and bringing this project to the fore is just mind boggling, but I think, oh, for sure. Yeah. I mean, the composer's anxious. We are anxious. The soloist is anxious. We really know the work by now, so that's so that's a plus, but it's not just that particular concert. There's a whole weekend. Of activity 

Robyn Bell: and it's all about Earth Day. 

Joe Holt: It's all about Earth Day originally this was supposed to come out, as you said, in April, 2020, which was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. And it was so appropriate, at that point to, bring out this. 

Robyn Bell: Now it's the 52nd anniversary. It will be. 

Joe Holt: However you want to work it, you know? And so 

Robyn Bell: this is a piece you commissioned,

Joe Holt: we commissioned it. Yeah, exactly. And Jim, Grant's worked on this for, many, many, many years actually. Yeah. Cause he brought the topic to us. At least I want to say five years ago, and so we've been working on it and finally, it was fully ready. Yeah. Then, of course maybe they went the hell 

Robyn Bell: the world's shut down.

Joe Holt: Exactly. But it's an amazing piece because it celebrates our planet through the viewpoint of the astronauts. 

Robyn Bell: Okay. Well the interesting perspective. 

Joe Holt: What was also timely is that we were celebrating in 2019, the 50th anniversary. But landing on the moon. 

Robyn Bell: Right? 

Joe Holt: So the opening of this is an entire sequence leading up to the rocket, taking off from Cape Kennedy, and so it's got a little bit of multimedia aspect to it. And then, the main character is basically the astronaut viewing the earth. From afar, and there's that iconic picture that we know, of the Earthrise, you know, front where the moon is, this dark barren place. And here's this beautiful blue speck of, life sitting out there in the void. And he evokes this in the piece it's really quite poignant and it really shows that we are the caretaker. Of our planets and his character takers need to do a better job and a collective better job. It's not just individuals. It really has to be a global approach. 

Robyn Bell: And is that concert that entire piece? Is it like a 90 minute work? 

Joe Holt: That's the entire second half, the first half features some other pieces that are, earth related. I wanted to find things that showcased the planet in different ways. So there's one about the universe itself, right? So say how we fit within the concept of the universe. Originally I thought about doing something that was with the four points that they call it. Girth, what is it? 

Robyn Bell: Wind and fire. 

Joe Holt: That concept was there originally, that was actually tossed out. But so every piece on the first half or three of them, and there's even a piece by Daniel Moe. 

Robyn Bell: Oh, okay.

Joe Holt: Yes. Interesting. It's called Chiefs Seattle Psalm and it's interesting. It was a, setting of uh, speech that Chief Seattle gave when he gave over territory of Washington. Wow. You know, or, or, or it was taken, I mean, sure.

Robyn Bell: You didn't have many choices. 

Joe Holt: Yeah. They, they have had a choice, but it's a beautiful poignant speech, talking about the reverence. For nature, the reverence for sky, for earth, for water. Yes. It really pulls in that. And it's, just a beautiful part of this program. But the whole weekend is kind of important because it features a couple of documentaries. Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral two wonderful echo documentaries that came out a couple of years ago. Jane Alexander. The noted actress. And she was ahead of the NEA for awhile. I think during the Clinton administration, she wrote a book, interestingly enough, about conservation she's going to be our featured keynote speaker. round table discussions, give you the Sarasota Opera House. And that's also going to feature local people who are very heavily involved in the conservation movement. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Yeah. What a great concept, Joe, and not just to put on a concert, but then to make a whole weekend kind of symposium about it. You know, involving the cultural arts and, and our, our planet, and especially here with the red tide and the rising sea levels and how much nature means to our area. I think this is a really important concert. I'm glad you're doing it. And I'm looking forward to attending that and hearing this great new piece. Finally, I was excited two years ago, 

Joe Holt: we were looking forward to it as well. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Now, before your actual season begins, Choral Artists is Sarasota. You have a very special performance coming up this Saturday, September 11th. It's at six o'clock at Patriot Plaza, the performance space at Sarasota's National Cemetery. So tell us about this event. 

Joe Holt: This year in 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And 10 years ago, we did a special presentation with the Sarasota orchestra. In the van Wezel for the 10 year anniversary, 10 year anniversary. And that was brought about, I think, June LaBelle and Ed Alley had their hand and helping design that, and convincing the orchestra that they needed to do something so there was program I heard about sometime late this spring, that's being put on by the Sarasota Ministerial Association. And I was at a board meeting for something else. And someone mentioned this and I thought, oh, that's right. This is the 20th anniversary. We need to do something as a community to recognize that because Sarasota has a unique place in history.

Robyn Bell: That's right. 

Joe Holt: was here, you know, at Booker Elementary School. Some of these terrorists, you know, lived here and 

Robyn Bell: they got trained here on how to fly planes. Yep. 

Joe Holt: The 20th anniversary is very poignant. There gonna be a lot of dignitaries there, national leaders as well as local leaders. And so we've put together a community chorus. Basically of a variety of organizations, the State College of Florida Chamber Chorus is gonna be there. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Melodie's group's going to be there. Booker High School Chamber Chorus is going to be there. The Alexander Zickafoose. I don't know if you've spoken with him, but yeah. 

Oh yes. He, we did, we did an interview with him when he was. Yeah. Yeah. 

Joe Holt: He's also quite the character. 

Robyn Bell: He plays bari saxophone, 

Joe Holt: but he's a wonderful, I mean, what a wonderful musician and, you know, wonderful advocate for these kids at Booker, really, I admire him so much for that. And Choral Artists is participating the SarasotaChorus of the Keys, which is the barbershop group. That's here. And there's some other individual you know, whether they're coming from churches or other, choruses, but not in larger numbers, it's like individual singers. So it's all coming together. Where we can, in song and in music. Help us commemorate this event. So there's a fair amount of patriotic, obviously, you know, but it's, it's more of the solemn patriotic, and so America, the Beautiful is in there. My Country tis of Thee and that we're going to end the program with, with God Bless America. Which to me should be the National Anthem. I mean, it's more of a national Anthem then I think sometimes I think our Anthem, I mean, it's certainly much more singable.

Robyn Bell: Yes, yes. Preach 

Joe Holt: that. I think people even know the words to that, you know? 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. I can hum the tune in tune. 

Joe Holt: Exactly. But that's poignant because the members of Congress in 2001, Gathered together on the steps of the Capitol and sang God Bless America. And so this is a throwback to that moment. Yeah. Which was so poignant for us. It was in the midst of all that darkness. Here's the hope. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. And let me tell you something, that's always fascinated me about the 9/11 attacks and the anniversaries. And as I, absorb it just myself is that it's what catapulted us into this global war on terrorism. And of course, this is very significant now that we've just withdrawn from Afghanistan, but really to me, 9/11 was about first responders. It was about the firefighters in the police officers and how we as a nation have, managed to merge that together, this military and first responders that on a 9/11, we're celebrating all of those heroes. That's one of the things that I love about 9/11 now I was teaching high school on 9/11, 2001. I was teaching a History of Rock class and I had a Mac computer that the school owned the high school I worked at and it was having issues. And the it guy was in my office working on it. And yeah, it was like, the classes were about to change. And I stopped me a minute early and I went into my office and I said, Well, you know, how's this going? Cause you're worried about your computer not turning on or whatever. He goes, well, he's fine, but I have some bad news. I thought, oh my God, I've lost my entire computer hard drive. He goes, a plane just ran into the World Trade Center. And I was like, okay. But my computer is okay. Like, I didn't understand quite the significance until maybe just in five or 10 minutes. When things started really ramping up, we had televisions in every classroom and in the cafeteria and all of a sudden. Stop what you're doing, watch this. You were part of the, the Army Band. Where were you on 9/11. 

Joe Holt: Our condo building was right across the highway from the Pentagon. 

Robyn Bell: Oh my God. And you were home. 

Joe Holt: I was home. I was at where you live on the backside of the building. So the front side of the building faces towards the Pentagon. And we had just come back from a whitewater rafting trip. The day before. So, cause this happened on a Tuesday. Yes, the 9/11. And I had to clean a tent. Yeah, just sort of get some mud off it. And it was sitting out in the balcony and I thought, well, I got to go out there and do that. But I looked at the time and realized, oh, I can't do that. I've got to get ready to go to work. Cause we had a rehearsal that morning at Fort Myer, which is right next to the Pentagon. 

Robyn Bell: Oh my God. 

Joe Holt: So right before, jumping into the shower, I heard that. Whoosh sound. And then there was this impact or something 

Robyn Bell: really 

Joe Holt: in all of the, windows rattled in the building, 

Robyn Bell: in your condo.

Joe Holt: Right. And, you know, we frequently had flyovers for, in Arlington cemetery, for funerals. So my thought was, oh gosh, one of these Air Force jets must have flown a little bit too low and then broke the speed. Cause they do. They fly very fast.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. 

Joe Holt: So it could have been something like that. So I didn't think anything of it until, and I didn't know anything was going on in New York. 

Robyn Bell: Right. You didn't have the TV on radio on nothing. 

Joe Holt: I was not watching anything. 

Robyn Bell: You were going to clean a tent. 

Joe Holt: I was going to clean a tent. That's right now we're more worried about the 10th. Right? So I came out of the shower and I kept hearing siren and siren and siren. Something's not right here. And so I ran up to the rooftop of the building and there were a bunch of people gathered there. And to our horror, I mean, there was the Pentagon with this gaping hole in it and flames and smoke. And I thought, oh my God, a plane veered off course because the National Airport is not that far away either. You know, I thought, gosh, a plane was coming down and it just didn't quite make it or something. And then the building superintendent said no, I think this is probably related to what's going on in New York work. I mean, you're like New York, right? What are you talking about? So, you know, I raced downstairs, turn on the TV and there it goes, one of the towers falling.

Robyn Bell: Wow. 

Joe Holt: I thought this is surreal. Yeah. And so I picked up the phone. 

Robyn Bell: There was a, this was kind of before cell phones 

Joe Holt: that we never had cell phones there though. And my cell phone was in my car. I see, yeah, we kept it in the car. Cause it was, you know, it was, 

Robyn Bell: it was 

Joe Holt: exactly. So I picked up the words, the real phone, the handheld, it was a message there. And it was my stepmother calling from South Dakota, asking if we were all right. Because she knew how close we live to the Pentagon. And so I had to call them back. I mean, this is kind of the, craziness of the story I had to call them back. But because of cell phones, I no longer had the number in my head. So I had to go down to my car. To get the cell phone so I could call them. Right. So I'm running down to the car. Down 10 flights got down there and I got the phone and I'm running through the garage. I'm trying to find their number and also running up to the front desk, because I had just heard on the TV that there was a possibility of a fourth plane out there that we didn't know where it was. So I unfortunately, it wasn't watching where I was going and I hit a pipe. 

Robyn Bell: Oh. And your head. 

Joe Holt: So I'm now down on the floor. 

Robyn Bell: Oh Joe, 

Joe Holt: how the hell am I? Where am I 

Robyn Bell: get any worse? 

Joe Holt: Right. So then I reach up and I realize I'm bleeding. I go up into the lobby just to tell the front desk clerk that we've gotta be concerned about this. There's a potential another plane. And she looks at me and she sees the blood. She knows I work at Fort Myer and she says, oh God, Joe you've been hit. No, no, no, no, no. But then I'm thinking, you know, I may need to go get stitches. There's no way I'm going to get to a hospital at this point, because everything is going to be closed up. Yeah. And indeed the, at Fort Myer closed down, they told them to 

Robyn Bell: say no rehearsal that day, 

Joe Holt: they called us and said, do not even come near the place and all sorts of stuff. So, I mean, it was just, it's such a surreal time. And then to have the, the airplanes and the helicopters flying over and searching. Because our building has a unique view. So, they were looking at every single balcony, you know, cause we didn't know it was surreal.

Robyn Bell: Thank you. When he told me a plane flew into the World Trade Center, I thought, well, someone just had a horrible accident. didn't even occur to me that this would have been something intentional. And now 20 years later, we go to the airport and we've just become so accustomed to those security lines. You remember when people used to walk you all the way to the gate and you never had to take off your shoes or take care of your laptop, and now you don't think anything of it, how it changed. That whole event just changed our experience with it, with air travel going forward. 

Joe Holt: And it certainly has made us more safety conscious, 

Robyn Bell: right. Nothing like that has happened since, 

Joe Holt: right. 

Robyn Bell: Yeah. 

Joe Holt: Yeah. And then you mentioned something about the the first responders, so in the middle of this ceremony that we're doing. There's a special coin. That's being given out to first responders 

Robyn Bell: outstanding. 

Joe Holt: And so there's a wonderful piece that we're going to sing at that point called A Hero for Today. And it basically is about the everyday normal people in our lives who are heroes, including the firemen, the policemen, the first responders, the EMT's and the like, but also, people like teachers. Clergy, how they also are heroes for us. So it's a, beautiful piece. And it'll be a wonderful underscore to the presentation of that, coin metal. 

Robyn Bell: Well, we have, well, we shouldn't say free tickets to this event because nothing can be sold at the Patriot Plaza. It's always free. So we have our free tickets to that event and looking forward to experiencing this very special. Presentation, but Joe, for everyone else who wants to buy either their single performance tickets or their season tickets for the Choral Artists of Sarasota programs, where do they go for that? 

Joe Holt: So the best place to go is the website, Choral Artists, Sarasota, and their two S's in the middle of that day. We could have just, you know, nicknamed at chaos because that's really what it is.

Robyn Bell: No, no 

Joe Holt: Choral with a ch it's not the, you know, the coral you find out. You'd be surprised how many people actually, they confuse us with some of those organizations, but Choral Artists sarasota.org is the best. 

Robyn Bell: And we also have, I don't know if you know this, but we've put all of your concerts on our Calendar of Events, page on the Suncoast Culture Club website. And so folks that are there can actually see those concerts and. Click buy tickets and it takes you straight to your website. 

Joe Holt: Oh, perfect. Well, thank you. 

Robyn Bell: Well, you're welcome, Joe, my friend and colleague, it's always a thrill to spend time with you and hear about all the creative things you're doing on the for the cultural arts on our Suncoast. And it's fun to see how your career shifted from being this principal pianist for the United States Army Band and Chorus in Washington, DC for 20 years, to all the things you do now and your quote, retirement job. And we here at the State College of Florida continue to benefit from those collaborations with you and your chorus. And it's a wonderful opportunity for our students. We're very, very grateful for that. I hope everyone in town buys tickets to your season of concerts. And I look forward to the very special performances Saturday, September 11th at the Sarasota National Cemetery. Thank you for spending time with us today, Joe. 

Joe Holt: Thank you, Robyn. I look forward to whatever we can do together. You know, that 

Robyn Bell: a hundred percent, 

Joe Holt: a hundred percent in favor of everything you do too.