Malcolm Holmes never worries about what to do with his spare time. He directs band medleys in Soldiers Field and plays the violin in a string quartet. He is dean of one of the country's leading music conservatories, and conductor of several amateur and semi-professional orchestras. He has recently written a book on conducting amateur musical groups, and he spent part of the summer leading the Boston Pops Orchestra. Through all these various activities he manages to retain a jolly disposition, disturbed only occasionally by a Glockenspiel or an enemy football manager.
Holmes started his life of variety at the age of eight, when he learned to play the violin. He concentrated in languages at Harvard, was a bass drummer (a difficult instrument on which to achieve eminence) in the Band under Leroy Anderson, and was president of Pierian Sodality. Since then, with a little time out for graduate work in music, the beaming, popular leader has been simultaneously conductor of the Wellesley, Radcliffe, and Harvard Orchestras, and director of the Wellesley Concert series. He has taught classes in music appreciation, acted as graduate advisor of Pierian, and has been an instructor (now dean) of the New England Conservatory of Music. He has been active in the Berkshire Festival and plays the violin in the Tanglewood String Quartet with three members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Army discovered his versatility quickly. In 18 months of service life "Mal" had to work in Special Service in languages, lead a Wac chorus, act as a camp movie critic, edit a camp newspaper, and do a regularly-scheduled radio broadcast for the Army.
As a leader of large groups, particularly of young people, Holmes is without equal. The interest he takes in his work, in both music and his musicians, wins over completely the players under him. It is this quality, in addition to his unquestionably fine musicianship, that produces the results Holmes gets from non-professional musicians. He believes very strongly that the best way to get amateur musicians to work together is to make them enjoy it--"by cracking the quip, if necessary." And his humor technique can be modified into a Knute Rockno pep talk when necessary. Two years ago, he read a somehow dispirited group of Bandsmen a Cornell Band press clipping, in which the last line read "The Harvard Band is also expected to appear." As usual, Holmes' team remained undefeated.
Acting as Dean, Instructor in conducting, and director of the orchestra of the New England Conservatory, as author, and as frequent chamber music participant, Holmes has had to cut down his activity at Harvard. He is no longer active leader of the University Orchestra. But wherever good ensemble music is heard between Symphony Hall and Wellesley, Malcolm Holmes is likely to have a leading part in it.