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Special Music School Alumna Profile:
Lily Holgate


“Music is about sharing with other people. It’s about giving something to someone else, something that you have to offer that is special to you and unique to you.” 

Violinist Lily Holgate attended Special Music School from Kindergarten through fourth grade, and her commitment to music endures. “I can’t envision my life without it,” she says. When she entered fifth grade, her family moved to Saratoga, where Lily also attended high school and continued to take private violin lessons. She says her mom gave her the option to stop taking lessons at age 15, but by the time she reached that age, she had no desire to quit. “It was so grounding for me,” she explains. “It was the thing that I did. I didn’t know life without it, really.”

Feeling as though she’d be lost without music, Lily chose to major in violin performance at SUNY Purchase, from which she graduated in 2014. Surprisingly, she wavered before deciding to pursue violin in college. “I almost didn’t do it because I didn’t believe in myself,” she reveals. “I held it to such a high level, like classical music is on such a high podium. I’ll never be worthy of it. But I’m slowly getting over that.” She confesses to struggling with anxiety around solo performances but discovered a love for chamber music at SMS. She soon found that playing in groups was more comfortable for her than performing alone. “It just spoke to me,” she recalls. “I liked the fact that we could talk about the music. The intimacy of working with your colleagues was really exciting to me.”

Lily’s experience with overcoming nerves gives her wisdom that young SMS students might find valuable: “Just remember that [music is] about sharing with other people. That’s what it’s about. It’s about giving something to someone else, something that you have to offer that is special to you and unique to you.” Accordingly, she’s formed chamber group, the Puck Quartet, that is working to combine music with other types of performance to create a unique collaboration among artists. Click here to watch them perform.

Lily remembers her time at SMS as being part of “a very special community” and says Sean Hartley was “hugely influential” to her and to everyone in her class. “He was so positive and warm,” she recalls, reflecting on his direction of the chorus, one of her favorite activities at SMS. Personal growth as an artist remains an important part of her development as she navigates the world in her early 20s. She shares what helps her through performances today: “If I can just let go and enjoy what I’m doing and the feeling of being in this energy bubble of sound, it’s really uplifting. It’s when I can tap into those moments that I think I give back to the audience the best that I can. Which is really what I would say to those 7-year-olds [now at SMS]. It’s about giving back. It’s not about you; it’s about the music.”

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