Since coming to Yale, Sam Hollister ’18 has spent much of his time working on various conducting projects. For his senior thesis, Hollister has taken on the massive task of leading about one hundred musicians — chorus, solo singers and instrumentalists — in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem.
But Hollister’s first engagement with music took place on a far smaller scale. At just four years old, his parents asked him which instrument he would like to play. His parents dismissed his first choice — the drums — and logistics did not work out with the only local violin teacher near his hometown in Rhode Island. So instead, Hollister settled on the piano.
He studied piano through high school, but, at that point, he imagined music would figure into his life as a hobby, not a profession.
During the summer before applying to college, though, Hollister had a memorable experience at a summer music program.
“That was when I realized that [music] is not a hobby,” he said. “It’s the thing I want to do.”
When considering colleges, Hollister found that Yale serves as a place where he could study both music and physics, his intended major. He explained that Yale “kept all the doors open.”
While singing in the Yale Glee Club and spending time outside his classes working on theatre productions, Hollister decided to double major in math and music. And serving as music director in several on-campus productions confirmed his suspicion that he would enjoy conducting.
If he needed any further confirmation, he got it when he attended a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Hollister described hearing this symphony performed live as “otherworldly” and moving — so moving that it led him to listen to all of Mahler’s symphonic repertoire the next day.
“To this day, Mahler’s music is one of the most special things to me — half for nostalgia, half for the same reasons I fell in love with his music to begin with,” he said.
Hollister has taken more than twenty courses in Yale’s music department, including classes in music theory that nearly swayed him to focus his musical future on the study of theory. But while theory is attractive, he said, he is “too attached to making music” to give up conducting.
Hollister will conduct for his senior project. He said that Mozart’s Requiem exposes the composer’s darker side. Though one might associate Mozart with a lighter or jauntier style of music, the Requiem brings up profound questions about death with its darker and deeper character.
Claire Carroll ’18, the producer of Friday’s performance, said that Hollister “cares about the rehearsal experience for each musician.” He noted that part of his goal for the performance was to welcome willing singers of all levels into the choir. Emery Kerekes ’21, the assistant music director for the Requiem performance, commended Hollister for his tireless work on the project — the logistics of which remained a challenge throughout the process.
After graduation, Hollister will spend his summer at domestic and international conducting festivals.
Julia Carabatsos | firstname.lastname@example.org