A Musical Missionary: The Life and Music of Dulcie Holland

By Rita Crews and Jeanell Carrigan

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Biography of Dulcie Holland co-authored by Rita Crews OAM and Jeanell Carrigan AM

This wonderful Australian woman composer deserved to have her life and music celebrated much earlier, not twenty years after her death. But now it is been written by two musicians: one who knew Holland and had the opportunity to discuss her music with her; and one who has come to know Dulcie Holland from playing many of her remarkable compositions. Fortunately, there are detailed interviews available, giving a very good insight into Holland’s thought processes and providing an absolute wealth of information​.

Holland was such a modest woman that she probably would have thought her music - and her life - was not worth writing about. She was always described as having an engaging and outgoing personality. She considered herself to be first a pianist, then a composer and thirdly a teacher, but composed music well into her eighties.
Her compositions, numbering at least 330, included music in all genres except opera, though her musical play Jenolan Adventure, was certainly a work of drama for the stage. Documentary films, chamber music, works for orchestra, instrumental solos, many keyboard works and at least thirty songs are all part of her immense contribution to Australian composition.

She is undoubtedly best known for the numerous musicianship and theory textbooks that she wrote over many years. Even the catalogue listing at the National Library mentions that “Holland’s name became synonymous with music theory in Australia.” Despite the obvious advantages of being the Australian expert on music theory, it has meant that Holland herself and some of her more serious compositions have been overlooked by musical critics.

It is a tragedy that a biography and discussion about Holland’s music has taken until now to be written. She is certainly a composer who deserves to be celebrated. In her own words:

But after many years of writing music, simply because I had the urge to do so, I have reached the strong conclusion that music is greater than the sum of all those who contribute to it, and that instead of adding to the volume of music that has been composed, it would be much more valuable to make new converts for music, to share my enthusiasm for it with those possibly as yet unaware, and to stimulate them to find out more of its mysteries and delights. I have had first-hand opportunities to observe how young people develop, how their tastes may be formed, and their imagination fired, and ultimately how their lives can be enriched by a knowledge and love of music. To encourage others along these lines has become my mission in life, and I dare to hope that my influence for good may continue long after my earthly life ends, thus adding significantly to the quality of life in at least one small part of this world.

Composing is very difficult. It needs a lot of concentration and dedication to get things just right. I feel I’m a missionary in music in a way. [Dulcie Holland. 'Contemporary Music Review', 1994, Vol. 11]  Presented by Dr Rita Crews for KCC Music Professional Development

ISBN 9781876829643