Poster Jonathan Bailey Holland
Jonathan Bailey Holland is the dean of the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.
Rhapsody in Black

Composer Jonathan Bailey Holland aims to reshape how music is taught and understood

Rhapsody in Black - Jonathan Bailey

Most artists toil in the shadows for a while before their work gets noticed. Not Jonathan Bailey Holland.

He studied composition at Interlochen Arts Academy, and his first composition won a schoolwide award. He was immediately hooked on composition. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music at Curtis Institute of Music and a doctorate in music from Harvard University.

Just as winning that award for his first composition changed the direction of his studies, events in the news changed the direction of his music.

In spring 2015, riots broke out in Baltimore after Freddie Gray died in police custody. Holland forced himself to watch all the available bystander and dashcam video of Gray’s arrest. One thought kept running through his mind: “That could be me.”

Suddenly, he felt as if his music couldn’t be “about anything but that psychological space.”

“Across the board, artists are feeling a need to respond somehow to everything that’s happening,” he said. “Either to reflect on it, comment on it or make it more present.”

Right now, his commitment to education is the only thing that eclipses his music.

His mission is to reshape the way music history is taught and understood, and to help every student feel like they’re part of the conversation. As the new dean of the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, that mission is underway.


Host: Vernon Neal

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher

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About Rhapsody in Black

Where we turn up the voices of Black artists in the world of classical music, with host Vernon Neal.

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About Rhapsody in Black