Changing The World

Changing The World

Singer/songwriter seeks common ground


Claire Holley speaks quickly, with lots of emotion and enthusiasm in her voice. But at the same time, she chooses her words carefully. She wants to be clear in her meaning — and she wants to be sure she doesn’t come across as anything but grateful and humble.

Talking about her childhood — when she started playing the piano at age 2 and the guitar not long after — Holley is quick to say, “I never thought I was a great artist. I wasn’t a very disciplined piano player.” On the topic of motherhood — which she clearly enjoys thoroughly, in spite of the challenge of being primary caregiver for boys 14 and 10 — she wants to be sure she doesn’t foist that side of her life onto her audience. “Not everyone has children.” And as far as being a singer/songwriter with a long list of credentials, she says she doesn’t “mean to say I’ve got it all figured out. As Leonard Cohen has often said, ‘If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.’”

But Holley thinks perhaps her music can help change the world, even if it’s in little, one-to-one ways. And that’s what she wanted to do ever since she aspired as a child to be a veterinarian and later a counselor.

“One thing I’ve found with music is that when I’m doing a performance or doing a songwriting workshop, talking about songs is really talking about life,” she muses. “I’m in a place with my music where I want to think of how I can help this audience.

“People are coming in with a lot of stuff. When somebody walks into a room, you don’t know what just happened in their lives. I just try to be aware of all of the messes that people have, that they’re dealing with, and try to be some kind of voice of clarity or healing in that,” she says. “I realize that sounds pretentious, but I mean it most sincerely. Right now is kind of a divisive time — so if, by the end of a performance, I can bring a group of people together, that would be great. We have differences, but we have some things in common too, so let’s figure out what they are.”

Critics often comment on Holley’s roots — she was raised in Jackson, Miss. — and credit that upbringing for her storytelling talent and her Southern charm. She says it was her dad’s skill at imitating other voices, other sounds, that captivated her most but adds that music was simply part of her life as a child. Her grandmother was a jazz pianist — “she was very good” — her dad loved classical music, and her mom was “very good at finding cool instruments. I feel like creativity was just fostered in our home.”

She, on the other hand, has worked to separate parenthood and her career — which has included six records, lots of tours, accolades from critics and airtime on NPR, along with writing music for plays, for a feature-length documentary and for several short films. That divide, she says, is shrinking. Her older son plays the cello, the younger one is learning to play drums, and “they’re at the age where you can enjoy real conversations with them about real things.” Seeing them becoming “kind, generous people” brings with it the same joy as “finishing a song you’re proud of.”



Claire Holley

In Concert

WHEN — 7 p.m. Aug. 18

WHERE — Artist Retreat Center in Bella Vista

COST — $20

INFO — 268-6463

BONUS — Holley will be joined by jazz guitarist Ben Harris for the ARC concert and a free Mountain Street Stage performance at 2 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Fayetteville Public Library.

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