As a product of Whitefish High School and the North Valley Music School, Eric Holdhusen excelled in the band and orchestra programs, which ignited an enduring passion for instrumental ensembles that carried over into higher education and professional life.
He started violin lessons at the age of 4 and picked up trumpet in 7th grade with the guidance of Jenanne Solberg and Mark McCrady, two of the valley’s finest musicians.
By the time he earned his Bachelor of Music at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., Holdhusen had performed and toured with the St. Olaf Orchestra, a top jazz ensemble, as well as the St. Olaf Band.
But even while studying and performing at the highest level, including his participation as a teen in the Montana High School Association’s All-State Orchestra, something nagged at Holdhusen during those formative years — he’d never had the opportunity to practice and perform with a youth symphony, which many professional musicians view as a critical crucible to forge their burgeoning talents.
“I would have killed to have played in a youth symphony,” he said. “We didn’t have one when I grew up. I was able to do All-State but in college everyone around me had played in a youth symphony. When I came back to the Flathead, I knew I wanted the youth in this community to have that opportunity. Because I wish I’d had it.”
Hoping to expand opportunities and experiences for young local musicians, Holdhusen returned to his hometown and accepted a job as Flathead Valley High School’s Director of Orchestras while also performing as a violinist in the Glacier Symphony. Meanwhile, his determination to assemble an orchestral ensemble geared toward middle- and high-school students prevailed; starting this fall, the Flathead Valley Youth Symphony will begin rehearsing at Flathead High School as part of a new program through the nonprofit North Valley Music School.
According to Holdhusen, the new program provides an accessible symphony orchestra experience for all students in the valley, including homeschooled students who previously had no other options to ply their talents or interests.
“It opens up a whole new musical world to them,” Holdhusen, the director of the new youth symphony, said. “Most people who study music and study after high school attribute a lot of their early growth to performing in local youth symphonies. And most communities in Montana with AA high schools have a youth symphony. But the Flathead Valley hasn’t had that opportunity, even though we have a lot of musicians.”
Those musicians will find a range of opportunities through the Flathead Valley Youth Symphony, which will include string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments, an important distinction that sets the symphony apart from existing high school programs that focus exclusively on string ensembles.
“Beyond that, students will make new friends outside of their school and community, create lasting memories, and further develop their musicianship through classical, contemporary, and popular orchestral repertoire,” Holdhusen said.
The first rehearsal will take place on Monday, Oct. 2. Audition materials and all other information can be found at northvalleymusicschool.org.