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Holly Haase

SHIRLEY — As a longtime town employee and elected official, Town Collector Holly Haase is a competent professional and work comes first when she’s on the job. But outside the Town Offices, there’s another side to Ms Haase, and it’s all about music.

As a trained singer, Ms Haase is the creative force behind Shirley Meetinghouse events – concerts, open recitals, Vespers – that she organizes and choreographs and in which she performs. In a recent interview, Haase traced her artistic roots and talked about her lifelong love of music.

Q: How and when did you start singing?

A: My mother’s a singer. I grew up with music. Ella Fitzgerald, Al Hirt, classical. Sunday mornings, she sang at churches. My sister plays flute, one of my brothers plays guitar and composes, another plays various instruments. This summer, I played guitar (self taught and recently taken up again after many years) with him and it was fun. I bought my first guitar in high school. Folk music was big then. I loved it. I sang and played at coffee houses, like Joan Baez.

Q: Did you keep it up after you got married and had kids?

A: I had discovered my voice was not for folk, I got into classical music and sang in a 100 voice choir in Lexington. It was fabulous. I learned a lot, re-found my love of music. Later, I studied voice, worked with some great teachers, all different. The first lesson I had to learn — I was in my 40’s then — was to break years of bad habits. I did so willingly. When my voice teacher movednI got another and I join d the Nashoba Valley Chorale, which had a teaching conductor who recorded with the Boston Symphony. After that I “chorus hopped,” based on what groups were singing and worked with other superb teaching conductors.

Q: Did you take formal voice lessons after that and do you now?

A: I’m on hiatus. While singing with the choir at Grace Chapel I looked for classes and found Longy School of Music offered continuing ed. courses. My first class was “Diction for Singers,” a grad level day class. Whether it’s for musicals or operas, vocalists must sing in languages they don’t speak. The first song I did for class was a German piece by Schubert, whose music I love. I was nervous, made mistakes. One grad student said “You know, you’re not as bad as you think.”

Next came Art Song classes, like arias but you set the stage for a poem and tell the story in two minutes. Samuel Barber’s “Shore on the Shining Night” for example, one of my favorites in English. I don’t sight read music very well but my interest is in the interpretation of a song. As I tell members of the Meetinghouse Chorus, read the words as a poem first, then in rhythm, then learn the notes.

Q: Any other formal training?

A: While still at Longy I signed up for the Berkshire Choral Festival, a workshop at the Sheffield School in Springfield. You study for a week then perform. Section leaders are conductors from all over the world. I sang with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

Q: Were you also working at the time?

A: That was a vacation. I’ve always worked, since age 16 and part time when my kids were young. I started full time in Shirley in the Assessors office. I was elected tax collector in 1992.

Q: Meantime, you kept on singing?

A: I sang with local groups like the choir at the United Church of Shirley. I worked with some really great singers. Beverly Gage was one. Bruce English was another. I once sang a duet with him, “One Hand, One Heart” at a wedding. Later, I sang it with Vicky Landry at a concert. There are some very talented people in this town. Vicky’s background is musical theater. Now I sing with the Meetinghouse Chorus. It’s an ad hoc group, we get together for purposeful practice when there’s an event coming up but don’t meet all the time. We do have a fine director, though, Bernard Crane, a composer.

Q: How did the Meetinghouse Concerts begin?

A: I wanted a different direction for my own music and to bring in others who wanted to share their talent, not just from Shirley. Professionals like Jane West, who loved the building’s grand acoustics.

Q: What about the Open Recital Series?

A: That started out as an open invitation to performers. One was from Columbia, one of Jane’s students from abroad whose visas require recitals in the country they’re studying in. Some I’d like to bring back, like the Arabella Ensemble, maybe to do their “American Songbook.” The recitals are free, but donations are welcomed. They help us (private, non-profit organization) keep up the Meetinghouse, which is self sustaining. Concerts, Vespers, Open Recitals, it’s a lot of work, but we’re supporting the arts as well as the building.

Q: So where are you as a singer, now?

A: Vocal chords age, as people do, but singing takes your whole body. Breath control, posture, affect how your voice sounds. I’ll continue as long as I can make a decent sound, with exercise, practice, tips from Jane, my teacher.

Q: Did you ever do any paid gigs?

A: I got paid as a cantor at a Catholic church in West Boylston and for singing at mass, funerals, weddings. “Ave Maria” was a frequent choice. My keenest interest has always been in the arts, but when it came to an occupation, I followed my family’s lead: “Choose a career in which you could make a living.” Now, though, I wonder if I could have had a musical career, perhaps teaching on the side.