A Valentine’s Day treat for lovers
by Marene Gustin
Photo by Dario Acosta
John Thomas Holiday Jr.’s most romantic Valentine’s Day wasn’t actually on Valentine’s Day. “I was living in Cincinnati in 2010,” the native Houstonian recalls. “And Paul (who’s a surveyor for an oil company) arrived before Valentine’s Day for a visit, and we had this wonderful dinner at Primavista, a lovely Italian restaurant overlooking the river. And then two days after Valentine’s Day, he proposed.”
Holiday and Paul Gater will celebrate their second wedding anniversary this February 4, and on Valentine’s Day Holiday will be singing Italian love songs by Monteverdi, Vivaldi, and Scarlatti with Ars Lyrica at the Houston Early Music Festival. Besides being a romantic, Holiday is also a renowned operatic countertenor—probably the only one residing in Rosenberg, Texas.
Born in Houston, Holiday’s family moved to Rosenberg in Fort Bend County, where he was raised. He started singing in church (and his ABCs in school) at age two, and performed his first solo, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” in the second grade at Travis Elementary.
“I was exposed to music in church at an early age,” he says. “My grandmother was the minister of music at church and was a great influence on me. I thank God every day for her. She had an amazing voice—talk about someone who could move people with her voice. She still sings.”
At a very young age he joined The Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas and toured the world singing. He went on to win several music competitions in high school before earning a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance in 2007 from Southern Methodist University. After returning home for a brief stint as a junior high school voice teacher, he attended the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music graduate program. He has performed with the Santa Fe Opera, Portland Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Wolf Trap Opera.
Although they’ve toured the world, Holiday and his husband settled back in Rosenberg, where they now have a new home complete with a music room. His Valentine’s Day performance with Ars Lyrica will be his third collaboration with the local early-music ensemble. “I didn’t even know this would be for the Houston Early Music Festival,” he says. “But I love working with Ars Lyrica and artistic director Matthew Dirst. It’s always a great experience.”
Most Houstonians are aware that the city is well known for its opera scene, Houston Grand Opera being a world-class arts organization. But the city is also a hotbed for early music—from the mid-18th century and before, including music from the Baroque, Renaissance, and Middle Ages—with organizations like Ars Lyrica, Bach Society Houston, Houston Early Music, Mercury–The Orchestra Redefined, and the Piping Rock Singers. In 2013, these groups banded together to create the Houston Early Music Festival. This year the festival hosts five main-stage performances at various venues around Houston and an inaugural Young Artist Showcase program, which highlights current student period-instrument ensembles from Texas university and college music programs.
While his high countertenor vocal range is best suited for early music, Holiday also enjoys singing contemporary operas. “I think it’s important to engage younger audiences with more modern music,” he explains.
While both Holiday and his husband travel globally for work, when they are both at home in Rosenberg, they enjoy time with their cockapoo dog, Grace, and planning special date nights. “I like to think I’m romantic,” Holiday says. “I like to plan little surprise outings for us. I love surprises!”
And here’s a surprise—Holiday is also an avid flyer, albeit via the computer screen. “I fly planes on my flight simulator,” he says. “I have a lot of hours and certificates. Someday I want to get a real pilot’s license, probably in my old age!”
In the meantime, he continues with his globe-trotting career, letting others fly him from city to city.
What: John Holiday and Ars Lyrica perform Love Letters as part of the Houston Early Music Festival
When: February 14, 7:30 p.m. (there will be an artist talk with Holiday, Matthew Dirst, and mezzo-soprano Ellie Jarrett Shattles at 7 p.m.)
Where: Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
Details: arslyricahouston.org or 713.315.2525.
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.