Portrait : Holly Kroeker, pianist

Mode de vie

By Communications et marketing

May 04, 2021

Holly kroeker, pianist / HEAD COACH
Atelier 2018-2021

Text : Véronique Gauthier
Photos : Marianne Charland

On an unusual, summer-like autumn day, we met this delightful pianist in the back yard of her residence in Montreal. Having moved to the city in 2018 to begin a new adventure with the Opéra de Montréal, Holly quickly grew fond of her new home and her newfound family at the Atelier lyrique.

Social Life: An Entry Point

Holly moved with her family from Manitoba to Alberta at only two years of age. To build a new network of acquaintances and ease her into their new community, her mother enrolled her in a multitude of activities, and thus, at age three, little Holly discovered the piano. “I took dance, gymnastics, figure skating … but the piano really stuck!”

Time ran its course, and Holly pursued a bachelor’s in performance at the University of Edmonton, where she increasingly frequented voice students, drawn by their outgoing nature and stimulating company. Her conversations with them were a constant source of excitement. “The poems, working in different languages, the repertoire, how the voice works, I found it all so fascinating!” She went on to register for the same classes as these voice students, to better understand the framework in which they were developing their craft. “I was the only pianist among singers! It was then that I became fully aware of the path I wanted to take.”

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When Music Leads to Love

It was also at the University of Edmonton that Holly made the acquaintance of her future husband, tenor Matthew Dalen “After completing our bachelor’s degrees, we left together to do our master’s degrees at the University of Toronto, after which we were both accepted into the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program in Vancouver. We were very lucky!” Holly was subsequently admitted to the Atelier lyrique and Matthew followed her to Montreal, where he too entered the program as a singer the following year. “We work really well together! That might be because our relationship started that way.”

A Welcoming Safe Space

From the time she auditioned, Holly felt that the entire Atelier team welcomed her with open arms, warmth, and kindness. “Here, I know that I can take risks, embrace who I am and push my ideas further. This is essential for learning!” It is, indeed, not enough to practise at home in one’s living room for hours on end. One must also be immersed at the heart of the action. “The Atelier enabled me to really enter into the thick of it, to lead a rehearsal, try things out, make mistakes, start over. And we are given the opportunity to work in different contexts, with different conductors and orchestras, in various musical styles.”

And above all, her work at the Atelier released her from her case of impostor syndrome. As a result, she was able to fully believe in the credibility she possesses to exercise her profession. “I learned that I could believe in myself, that I have a good ear, good technique, and that my opinion is just as worthwhile as someone else’s. I have something to contribute in the rehearsal studio and I am no longer afraid to give my opinion and offer suggestions.” With the tools now available to her, she is currently developing into the best version of herself. “They take care of each individual musician, meeting you where you are to take you further. I am trusted and respected for who I am.”

Inspiring Mentors

During her first two years in Montreal, Holly worked with pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone. “It is rare enough to be mentored by a young woman who is still highly active in the profession; for me, just to observe her was very inspiring. She was a role model for me to affirm, ‘If I want to make it that far, that’s what I have to do.’ I really enjoyed working with her!” With Guillaume Dulude, she was able to develop an effective approach to performance anxiety. “All artists are familiar with this phenomenon of doing something 12 times over at home and then everything changing the moment someone else is watching. With Guillaume, we examine these ‘mental games,’ why they happen, and how to give our best with all the pressure and anxiety of performing in public.” She puts this valuable tool into practice in her work with singers.

Wearing Many Hats

Being a voice coach is far more complex than commonly thought. One needs insight into how the voice works, to know the music from every angle, be proficient in various styles, master diction, have a hyper-vigilant ear, and be a singer’s constant support. Working really hard in advance is what enables the final product to take shape, and this is a role Holly relishes: “I love working with singers, I have great respect for them and for all the work they do. It can be tough: they are told one thing by the stage director, another by the orchestral conductor, yet another by the diction coach… I feel that, through it all, my role is that of an ally. They know I am supporting them and always on their side. That means a lot to them and I like being that person.” Solid, organized, and passionate, Holly certainly inspires trust and is an outstanding asset to anyone fortunate enough to work with her!   

Opera: The Focus of Her Passion

While this pianist’s performance history includes concerts of mélodies and lieder, opera really makes her tick. “The poignant arias, what goes on behind the scenes, the colossal amount of work involved, is truly extraordinary! Rehearsing in-hall with the stage director, orchestral conductor and performers is, for me, just the best.” Holly hopes to continue her journey in this realm which has captured her heart, after her time at the Atelier. Her plans include private coaching, ideally in her recently adopted hometown, although all avenues are open, and Europe is not excluded from future projects. “For now, I will stay in Montreal if I can!”

When the season comes to an end, a whole new chapter will begin for this young pianist, but she will always remain closely connected to her Atelier family. “The Opéra de Montréal will definitely continue to be a part of my life, whether for musical projects or simply to catch up, just like real family. My years with the Atelier are likely to be the best of my life!”

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