Holte at the helm of Community Choir

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Steve Holte directs the Columbia Falls Community Choir Sunday at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. In the background is violinist Wai Mizutani.

He may be relatively new to the Columbia Falls music scene. But he’s no stranger to music. Steven Holte has taken the helm of the Columbia Falls Community Choir this year with no less gusto and enthusiasm than his predecessor Ron Bond.

Bond, after decades as director of the talented group, retired last year.

Holte has taught music and directed choirs for 36 years, teaching at Hays-Lodgepole, Livingston and Poplar as well as in the college ranks at Montana State University Northern and at Fort Peck Community College. Holte has also directed dozens and choirs and festivals over the years, he said in a recent interview.

When it came time to retire though, he traded in the winds of the east for the snow of the west, where he still marvels at how big fat flakes can fall straight down from the sky.

His wife, Paula, a musician in her own right, grew up in Whitefish.

Holte grew up in eastern Montana, part of a family steeped in musical tradition. His grandfathered played organ at the same church for 65 years and his grandmother on his mother’s side played and taught piano. Holte started playing piano at 6 and was playing wind instruments in fifth grade as well as singing in the choir.

The Holtes have lived in the valley for four years now. He sings in the United Methodist Church choir and his wife plays piano at the church and also plays at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church as well.

The community choir, with 85 singers this year from across the valley, is in its 44th season and Holte is pleased with this year’s program and progress.

“It’s an amazing group of people,” he said. “I worry that I push them too hard.”

Like Bond, Holte is a stickler for quality singing. But he directs in a wholly affable, though passionate way. This year’s concert features a variety of songs and genres, including a rendition of “Danny Boy” accompanied by violinist Wai Mizutani. Holte met Mizutani at Sykes Grocery in Kalispell, where he plays at lunch sometimes with owner Ray Thompson’s wife, Ladeine, a pianist. Mizutani is also an adjunct professor at Flathead Valley Community College.

Dawn Hashley is the concert pianist again this year.

“She’s just rock solid,” Holte notes.

Another tune will be accompanied by Jenny Krueger on the piccolo. All told, the concert features 11 songs, Holte said, including a lighthearted song by Groucho Marx entitled “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.”

The spring concert features two shows. One is 7 p.m. March 24 and another 2 p.m. March 25 at the High School Little Theater. The concerts are free, though donations are welcome at the door.

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