Reneé Gordon Holley has grown her interests in music and a foreign language into a long list of accomplishments, including being selected as one of 10 people from the United States to receive a prestigious fellowship. As a graduate of the Hazelwood School District, she is a positive example for students, teachers, the community and public education.
Holley graduated from Hazelwood Central High School in 2002. She attended Cold Water Elementary and Hazelwood Junior High, now known as Hazelwood Northwest Middle School. She has a bachelor’s degree from Truman State University. She completed a Fulbright grant at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. She has a master’s degree in musicology from the University of Illinois, and a graduate minor in European Union studies at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
She is studying musicology as a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
“Simply put, musicology is the study of music. Instead of performing or teaching music, I study and teach the history and stories of music makers,” said Holley. “Some scholars in my field research particular composers, such as Beethoven or the Beatles, while others examine contemporary music cultures and people groups scattered throughout the world.”
She and her husband, Benjamin, just moved to San Diego, where he will start a new job. At the end of August, she is leaving the country as part of her studies. She is a recipient of the Humboldt Foundation’s German Chancellor Fellowship for Future Leaders.
“I am going to Germany for one year to collect data for my Ph.D. dissertation. My dissertation is titled ‘Singing the European Union: Cultural Policy and its Constituent Voices in Germany.’ My year includes making connections with arts organizations throughout Germany and attending music events that have received funding from the European Union. I will also complete interviews with those involved in planning the events, and especially with the musicians and composers participating in these events,” she explained.
“To fund my year abroad, I applied for numerous fellowships. I received the Humboldt Foundation’s German Chancellor Fellowship for Future Leaders, which is awarded to only 10 individuals from the United States each year. In addition, the Humboldt Foundation also provides many professional activities and briefings for its fellows,” said Holley.
Her journey through music and culture started years ago.
“I had extremely supportive teachers throughout all 13 years as a student in Hazelwood schools. Through their encouragement, I was always challenged to do my best and to try new things. Activities that influenced me the most included participating in music during high school, and taking German. Darlene Schroeder, my high school German teacher, organized an exchange with a school in Hamburg, allowing my family and I to host our first exchange students,” she said.
“My trip to Germany after 10th grade sparked my intense interest in all things German. Now I am nearly fluent in German and will be returning to Europe for the ninth time for my fellowship.”
Holley’s enjoyment of music goes beyond research; it includes playing instruments and singing.
“I have always valued the high one has when performing with others. I grew up playing the flute, but switched to singing in high school. I still enjoy performing in choirs of various forms, and I have had the opportunity to make music with many close friends. Music has the power to bring individuals together, and I appreciate getting to research that in graduate school. Studying music making has been an exciting and fascinating experience!”
“Once I complete my dissertation, I plan on applying for university professor positions,” said Holley. “I will continue to conduct research on my topic, and I hope to continue performing with amateur choirs. I am keeping my options open, and I would be happy working in university administration or as a specialist on cultural policy and contemporary Europe.”
When asked if she had any words of wisdom to share with students in the District, Holley noted the importance of family and learning another language.
“I would encourage current students to do two things. First, don’t neglect spending time with people, especially family, in person, in addition to remaining electronically connected to social networks. You are learning life skills as you interact with people face to face. Even in our hyper-connected, technology-driven society, those who are personable, honest, and pleasant to talk with in person will go furthest in this highly competitive work climate.
“Second, take a foreign language, and complete as many years in school as you can. The ability to speak a second, or third, language is invaluable, and learning about a different culture and language is often a student’s first experience with a foreign environment. Even for students who are not college-bound, being able to speak another language puts one leaps and bounds beyond colleagues and competitors on the job market,” said Holley.
Her brother, Joseph Gordon, graduated from Hazelwood Central in 2003. He is completing a doctorate in religious studies with a concentration in systematic theology and ethics at Marquette University. He has a master’s of divinity from the seminary at Lincoln Christian University. He has a bachelor’s degree from Johnson University.
Their parents, Marie and David Gordon, reside in Florissant.