Serious About Music and Little Else

Sitting in the window of his mother's secretarial school, a young David M. Hollister `51 used to type as fast as he could think.

He had studied the piano since age six, so his fingers were dexterous and his skill on the typewriter was good advertisement for the school, which was located in Los Angeles, where his family lived at the time.

"This is how I spent my childhood and adolescence," he says. "I spent it at the typewriter."

Today the composer still writes prose and poetry, though now he says he thinks before putting words on paper. He accumulates unpublished pieces and occasionally sends selected works out to 100 or so of his friends and family in the self-titled Hollister Report. (Some recipients officially subscribe; others get the Report free of charge.)

By his own account, David Hollister has lived a "miscellaneous" life, shying away from committing himself to any one pursuit. The man who wants to be known for composing "serious" music also likes to write "nonsense" and dabbles in numerology. He suggests, with a chuckle, that he has got a "split personality."

Music of all varieties has long come first in his artistic life--and he has composed pieces ranging from chamber and symphonic works to dance and film scores. In his entry in the American Biographical Institute's 5000 Personalities of the World, he lists himself as "composer, writer, teacher, poet," as well as editor and publisher of the Hollister Report.

He reckons he's written nearly 500 songs in his career, including pop and classical and songs based on the poetry of medieval troubadours.

He grew up in a musical family, though music kept his father away from home for long stretches. As piano accompanist for John Charles Thomas, who billed himself "America's Favorite Baritone" in the first half of the century, his father traveled with the man who introduced "Home on the Range" to American folk tradition and who hosted a popular radio show called the "Westinghouse Hour."

At the College, Hollister took several classes in music theory but concentrated in American History. Still, he says he knew all along that he would end up in music.

"I was destined for a musical career," he says.

In the years just after graduation, Hollister, like his father, took his music on the road. In 1952, he went to the mountains of New York, where in the 1950s summer festivals were popular diversions for young couples.

"The purpose of these places was to find a mate, a one night stand," he says of the audiences who came to hear musical revues in the Adirondacks, Berkshires and Catskills. "They were busy flirting and dating and picking up and getting to know each other. Our job was not to do that but to entertain them."

The troupes staged different revues each week, so singers and musicians would perform one show while they rehearsed the next. Lyricists brought trunks full of songs--mostly boy-girl love duets--and composers like Hollister would rush frantically to complete melodies, which would be sent off for orchestration and brought back in time for rehearsal.

At the Taniment festival in the Pocono Mountains, Hollister worked with two sketch writers known as the Simon brothers, "Doc" and Danny. The creative team would gather for weekly meetings to plan the next week's show.

"I think the Simon brothers were really kind of quiet and kept to themselves," he says. "I do recall there was a lot of humor and joking. After all they were great humorists."