All That Jazz

David Holland, Secondary School Music Director at GEMS American Academy — Abu Dhabi, discusses opening for Alicia Keys, his love of music, both in and out the classroom, and how it lends itself to a greater work-life balance.

At the end of February David Holland, Secondary School Music Director at GEMS American Academy — Abu Dhabi (GAA) played at the Dubai Jazz Festival and opened for Alicia Keys with the band Swing Revue. He also plays with Jaye & Foe, an original band in Dubai, his own group Souled Out, and the National Symphony Orchestra Big Band.

His love of the saxophone goes back to when he started playing at 13 years old, which he studied right the way through to his Honour’s degree from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He embarked on a life as a professional musician and a session musician in the UK, and for a further eight years in South Africa. In 2014 he moved to the UAE where he teaches by day and plays by night and finds the balance between the two by being very clear about his priorities.

“First and foremost, we are here to teach. I’ve been a freelance session musician for so much of my life, so if I’ve got an hour off, I’m going to fill it with something related to music,” said David. He adds that many of his students attend his gigs which lends itself to providing relevant education and provides a practical context to his teaching. He’ll discuss something that happened at the gig and ask the students how they would handle it.

“Having my students at the gigs makes being a musician it a bit more real for them, especially when working with or for artists that they’re familiar with,” said David.

MAINTAINING WELL-BEING
David credited having a musical outlet to an improved sense of health and wellbeing, adding it is the best remedy after a day getting into the detailed, analytical parts of music. Being able to completely switch off is incredibly important.

Having my students at the gigs makes being a musician it a bit more real for them, especially when working with artists or for artists that they’re familiar with.

He touched on the tendency of many people today to spend so much time online or on social media, instead of pursuing a hobby or developing a skill. When he was growing up, he couldn’t rely on the internet for resources, given its lack of content and speed for streaming. The responsibility was on him to spend hours behind his instrument, listening to recordings, attending live performances, and transcribing other people to learn from them.

“Students want to know the life hack. They want to do what I do but are not willing to take their instruments home, or practice over the weekend or the summer. You get a handful of students who will put the effort, but the majority won’t. But their laptop and phones will go with them on holiday and they’re going to be connected over the break,” he said.