For Olivia Holman, a junior at Bend High School, combining 10 years of classical piano training, three years of choir and a few poetic lyrics has become the norm. It may even land her some TV time.
“Music is a good stress reliever,” she said. “I love writing songs because it gives me a chance to be creative and pour out what I’m feeling. I love performing because I love to share stories with people.”
Holman, 17, was home-schooled most of her life and transferred to Bend High during her freshman year. Now, instead of spending her day at home with her cat and a history book, she spends it immersed in International Baccalaureate classes, debate and speech teams, choir and creating her own music.
“You have to do what you have to do,” Olivia said. “(School) is my day job and music is kind of my night job and that’s how I look at it.”
Olivia’s piano teacher, Peter Brownlee, coached her through the Oregon Music Teachers Association piano syllabus, a grueling course of piano study that required her to learn 30 to 40 classical pieces over 10 years. He said he always likes his students to do their best, but Olivia’s best is “quite extraordinary.”
“Olivia has a talent rather like Barry Manilow,” Brownlee said. “She has taken classical music and fused it with her own creative style. Once in a while, you’ll hear a harmony very reminiscent of Debussy or Bach.”
Olivia said she never really thought about music until her “awkward” transition into high school.
“I never took music too seriously; it was always just a thing that was there for me,” she said. “In high school it almost became a necessity for me because I didn’t really fit in anywhere and I was looking for a place where I really felt secure.”
Bend High choir teacher Luke MacSween has taught Olivia since she transferred to the school and said her music and her voice have grown in that time.
“She’s really musically intuitive. It’s obvious she’s spent a lot of time listening to the greats,” MacSween said. “Her songwriting is really eclectic and modern and she can easily make a career out of it if she wants.”
Andria Lindsey, Olivia’s IB math teacher, said Olivia’s uniqueness and personality show through her music and songwriting.
“You can tell that, when she sings, she’s very comfortable with the type of music she represents,” Lindsey said. “She’s really confident in who she is. (Everyone) loves to be around her because she’s so positive.”
In a sense, Olivia has taken some cues from her older sister, Sara, who is also a classical pianist and has two commercial recordings to her credit and another to be released in July.
“I grew up going to all of her shows,” Olivia said. “I loved watching her and I was like, ‘That could never be me,’ and then sophomore year I started writing my own music.”
Olivia said she’s trying to create more of an indie pop sound similar to Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Regina Spektor. She has about 12 songs in her repertoire, with six she would put on an album. Her favorite is one she recently penned called “Winter Arms.”
“It feels like home when I listen to it,” she said. “When I’m having a bad day, it makes me feel a little better.”
Her writing process is different each time; sometimes she’ll find inspiration playing around with a production program on her computer or at the piano bench.
“Whenever I find the melody, I find the words at the same time,” she said. “I’ll find some beats and shape it to what I’m writing about or I’ll sit at the piano and play until something comes.”
But she’s not afraid to test her limits.
“If I don’t like the melody or the piano, I just trash it and say ‘I could probably write something better,’” she said. “I probably have about 100 songs that I haven’t finished.”
Olivia is a regular performer at Volcanic Theatre Pub on 14th Street and other small venues around Bend. She’s been using the gigs as practice for a private audition in two weeks with producers from “The Voice.”
“They Facebook-messaged me,” Olivia said. “It just said, ‘We heard your music on YouTube and you have a strong voice, here’s our information, please call us.’”
For her audition, she has been practicing four pop songs for at least two hours a night “just to make sure everything’s solidified.”
Olivia still has another year to figure out her post-high school plans, but wants to focus on music and possibly record a demo.
“For me, I don’t really know what I want to do or where I fit in yet,” Olivia said. “Music, that’s my passion. But we’ll see what happens; I still have to pay the bills.”
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