UM Today UM Today University of Manitoba UM Today UM Today UM Today
News from
Desautels Faculty of Music
UM Today Network

The indomitable Holly Laninga brings a sense of wonder to the classroom

July 17, 2023 — 

Like many musicians, Holly Laninga began her musical journey in grade seven in her middle school’s band, playing trumpet. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she’d hit upon the thing she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

“In high school, I was starting to figure out my options, and music was the only thing I was successful with that also made me happy,” she says.

Eager to explore that path further, Holly attended the 2018 Tempo Conference, an annual conference presented by the Manitoba Music Educators’ Association that looks at trends, innovations, and best practices in music education. There, Holly attended a workshop about the Orff teacher education program, offered through the Desautels Faculty of Music, which uses a child-centred philosophy of teaching music to children through doing, playing, exploring, improvising and creating.

“The workshop blew my mind – I had never imagined how much fun it could be to teach elementary school!” says Holly.

From that moment, she knew she wanted to become an early years music educator.


In the faculty

After her successful euphonium audition for the Desautels Faculty of Music, Holly threw herself into ensemble work, performing not only with concert band, but also in the University of Manitoba Musical Theatre Ensemble and a low brass chamber ensemble (in addition to trumpet and euphonium, Holly also plays trombone).


The diversification she undertook in ensembles has provided her with a wide range of musical skills in both instrumental and vocal music. Her diverse knowledge of these two areas will certainly make her a sought-after music educator.

The ebullient nature of the UM Musical Theatre Ensemble took its hold on Holly, and many of her favourite moments as a student come from her work with this group.

The arrival of COVID-19 on the scene resulted in unfortunate, but necessary, policies to keep people safe and healthy during its peak. This meant that many performing opportunities for musicians were shelved temporarily. It was a sad time for many musicians. However, given Holly’s indomitable spirit, as well as some clever programming from the UM Music Theatre Ensemble, Holly ended up learning new ways to connect with audiences.

“My favourite piece was probably ‘The Negative,’ from Waitress,” says Holly, who played Dawn, a waitress helping her colleague figure out how to take a pregnancy test and praying for a negative result.

“It was a very unique experience, as my scene mates Shayla Davidson, Kris Cahatol and I each recorded our parts separately and then it was stitched together as a pat of ‘Alone Together: A Covid Cabaret,’” she says of the video that resulted from the efforts.

This year, Holly performed the role of Pickles, from The Great American Trailer Park Musical, in a performance of “That’s Why I Love My Man.” The scene was part of the University of Manitoba Musical Theatre Ensemble’s “Love Thy Neighbor,” collection of musical theatre scenes this past April.

Pickles is one of a trio women singing about their ne’er-do-well romantic partners. Heavily pregnant and a tad ignorant about the realities of the world, Holly’s Pickles brought a bubbly, innocent, and hilarious soul to the scene as she strutted around the stage in all her platform-wedged, third-trimester glory.

During this production, Holly also performed as part of the full ensemble in three scenes from Mamma Mia, Oklahoma!, and Love Thy Neighbor, which featured full-on dance numbers and a very rough-and-tumble fight scene.

“My proudest moment as a DFOM student was this show. I really gave it everything I had and it was a blast!” she says of the experience.


Faculty mentors

The Desautels Faculty of Music’s small size means that almost all of our students make a strong connection with faculty members, and Holly is thankful for the support she’s received.
“Jody Stark and Donna Fletcher, for sure!” Holly answers enthusiastically when asked about whether she had any faculty mentors.

“I’m not sure I would have gotten through my degree without the two of them. They both provided me with so much support and grace during the difficult times,” she says.

Given the home and community she made of her musical theatre experience, it comes as no surprise that Holly would connect with Donna Fletcher, a Desautels Faculty of Music instructor and the director of the UM Musical Theatre Ensemble. Fletcher is equally enthusiastic about Holly.

“What can I say about Holly that is not wonderful?” says Fletcher.

“She has been a joy to work with throughout her time in the Musical Theatre Ensemble. I have adored watching her grow in confidence from year to year as well as seeing her talents bloom,” says Fletcher of Holly’s evolving stage presence.

“She is a quiet and strong leader who brings an enviable work ethic and a spirit of wonder to every rehearsal and classroom – a fabulous example for all her colleagues. I adore her fabulous sense of humour and hearing Holly’s laughter ring out in our class is always a delight,” Fletcher adds.

Associate professor and music education area head Jody Stark agrees with Fletcher’s assessment of Holly.

“Holly is a great person with a big heart. She is thoughtful, cares deeply, and is strong,” says Stark.

“I am proud of Holly for persevering through many challenges over her degree – for example, the switch to online learning, social isolation, singing with masks, etcetera – and look forward to what the future will bring for her,” Stark adds.


Next steps and gratitude

With her Bachelor of Music focusing on early years education now in hand, Holly will be heading to the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Education this fall, where she will work to earn her two-year after-degree Bachelor of Education (BEd.)

As she looks back on the last four years, Holly gives thanks for the help she’s received along the way.

“I again want to thank Jody Stark and Donna Fletcher – they kept me going he whole time!” she says.

“Also, I give thanks for my family and partner. They are all so wonderfully supportive of my education, and have done everything they can to help me,” Holly says.

“Also, Colleen Zwarych [2021 DFOM alumna] has been both an incredible friend and mentor through this experience. Every silly question or doubt I had, Colleen was there to help me, and I can’t thank her enough for that,” adds Holly.

Holly wants to extend that mentorship to future Desautels Faculty of Music students, offering up this advice:

“It’s hard at times, but try not to get discouraged – Take pride in the accomplishments you make along the way,” she advises.

“I think the DFOM is a little bit like Hogwarts in that ‘Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.’ If you reach out, someone will always be there to help you, whether an instructor or another student,” she says.

Our faculty members have no doubts about Holly’s future.

“I know she will be the kind of educator who seeks to grow throughout her career and to create safe spaces for her students,” says Stark.

“A kind and generous person who cares deeply not only about the work she does but also about those she works with, I know that her future will be bright and that Holly will bring her incredible spirit and intelligence to the next part of her journey! Bravo Holly!” says Fletcher.

We’re all rooting for you, Holly! If ever you want a pep talk or guidance, we’ll all be here at Hogwarts…err, the Desautels Faculty of Music, to help guide you!

Congratulations, Holly!

© University of Manitoba • Winnipeg, Manitoba • Canada • R3T 2N2

Emergency: 204-474-9341