What is your life’s purpose?
My life purpose is to share the relevance of classical music along with the healing power and the joy it has to offer with as many people as possible.
How are you living your purpose?
To best achieve my purpose, I take to the stage, literally. As concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony, I am the first chair violinist (with duties including leading the violins, making bowing direction decisions, and communicating directly with the conductor), and also interact with patrons and donors. As David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra puts it, we are “the public face of the entire orchestra, friendly, warm, and hospitable to every audience member, from corporate VIP/Board Member to wide-eyed 7-year-old kid to arrogant guest conductor.” (See more of my interviews with concertmasters here.) This unique position offers a vantage—a barometer if you will—of what audiences are feeling or not feeling. Communicating with people allows me to guide them into their own journey of experiencing classical music.
Creating bridges to audiences, all audiences, is a passion of mine. To that end, I launched a non-profit organization, ArtsCapacity, which offers healing music to the incarcerated as they prepare to re-enter society. Bringing music to the prison system has opened doors and hearts both inside and outside prison as people on both sides find how music can help them in their daily lives. Besides organizing the performances in the prisons, I also perform for and talk with the prisoners about their experiences listening to music. The two-way conversations we have are intriguing to people on the outside; they generate curiosity in the music we perform, as well as compassion for a population making efforts to change for good.
Recently, I began working with the award-winning Hollywood film composer, George S. Clinton, on a brand-new violin concerto he’s writing for me. We wanted to create an evocative work that audiences would gravitate towards. The Rose of Sonora is an intriguing narrative in musical form. It’s inspired by true stories about the lives of legendary women in the Old West and based around a plot just about everyone can identify with: Love and Revenge! The work will echo the sounds of epic western movie; it will be a satisfying and enjoyable concerto. The world premiere will be in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 25th, 2019.
How did you find your purpose?
Finding this purpose was a remarkable journey that started with me asking myself: Why am I doing this? I wrote a blog about that realization and discovery. Finding my purpose in an industry that sometimes feels like it lacks substance gave me strong sense of direction.
Starting violin as a kid was full of joy but maintaining it as a working adult was a different experience. It took dissatisfaction in an orchestra job for me to realize why music was important and how my role in it would be most gratifying.
After quitting that job, stepping back, and reassessing my profession, I got in touch with my path of sincerity and found new ownership in my purpose in music. It’s not that I ever disliked music, I just really disliked my role in music until I found my purpose. It was when I started asking myself why that I realized how much I love music and how important and meaningful it was to share it.
While reassessing what I wanted in my career, I took several concertmaster auditions. Once I accepted the offer to work as concertmaster with the Chattanooga Symphony, I started to hone in on sharing the joys of music with others.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
The advice I offer to those who are seeking their own purpose is: Ask yourself Why. It’s a revealing question. Why are you here? Why do you do what you’re doing? With each answer, keep asking Why; after about ten times you’ll start to hone ideas for purpose.
Sincerity is the next step to purpose. A purpose in life doesn’t have to be noble or heroic. But if you don’t have sincerity behind your purpose, you won’t be as convincing in your actions. Sincerity offers substance, grounding, and a genuine direction.
What resources do you recommend?
These books have helped guide me in everyday leadership skills and purpose:
South: The ENDURANCE Expedition by Ernest Shackleton shows how leading from the front by being active in all aspects shows how trust is built and exercised.
Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City by Kelly Leonard shares wonderful ways of thinking and communicating. It offers exercises in creativity and team building.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl reminds everyone how to live, how to validate one’s own life. It’s a beautiful book.
Connect with Holly Mulcahy
After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. Since then, she has won multiple tenured positions in symphonic orchestras from Richmond to Phoenix and has performed on a variety of domestic and international tours including the Washington National Opera Japan tour under the leadership of Placido Domingo and the 2012 Carnegie Hall appearance with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
She currently serves as concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra and began developing her leadership skills at the renowned Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University with former Baltimore Symphony concertmaster Herbert Greenberg. In recent seasons she has enjoyed serving as guest concertmaster for the Columbus Symphony (OH), Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and a one-year appointment as interim concertmaster for Orchestra Iowa.
As an in-demand performer, Holly maintains a very busy schedule serving as traveling concertmaster for the Emmy Award winner George Daugherty’s Bugs Bunny at the Symphony program and performing with Grammy award winning Nashville Symphony and Milwaukee Symphony. She can also be seen as featured soloist on the PBS special, A Christmas Carol, The Concert.
She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival where in addition to performing in the violin section and assistant concertmaster, Holly volunteers as an active chamber musician. In the summer of 2011, she performed Pulitzer Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio under Ms. Higdon’s direct supervision. Following the performance, Higdon said “Working with Holly Mulcahy was fantastic. She’s a superb musician and a great colleague. I always think my Piano Trio is a great test for violinists because it has such wildly varying moods: long and lyrical lines, delicately played, and then racing and driving rhythms, moving at top speeds with intensity. Holly nailed it all splendidly. I would work with her again any chance I could. She was wonderful.”
Passionate about all things etiquette, Holly makes her home in Chicago, IL, where she maintains a reputation for planning and hosting exquisite gourmet parties. In addition to an active performing career, she is the author of Neo Classical, a monthly column on the future of classical music. She enjoys gardening, organic cooking, and spoiling her cats. A lover of all things outdoors, she aspires to start her own organic farm.
Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.