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Touching lives through music: Billings Symphony outreach director calls it a career

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Posted at 5:49 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 19:49:30-04

Music can move us in many different ways.

Just ask Candy Holzer.

“Just seeing the children’s eyes when they try an instrument. That’s the first thing that I’m so impressed by. They make one note out of a trumpet and they are so excited,” says Holzer, the education outreach director for the Billings Symphony who is retiring next week.

After 27 years as a schoolteacher, Holzer found a new career with the Billings Symphony: helping to start programs to take music into schools, hospitals, and nursing homes and other communities.

One program took drums into senior homes to let dementia patients play them.

“They would begrudgingly come out and sit in a chair, and I would give them a drum, and they would start playing it right away. And then we always had a couple of musicians to play some background music for them and then they would get started with the beat. It was great, especially when they got up to dance,” she says.

Helping spread the magic of music has been one of the most rewarding parts of the job, she says—traveling to other communities away from Billings and also taking music into some places that you might not expect.

“My main baby is, I developed a guitar program at the Montana Women’s Prison, and over the last seven years, we have been teaching the ladies guitar lessons,” she says. “I just remember driving past the prison on the way in to work, and I always thought, I wish I could serve those ladies in some way because all of us are a little distance from going to prison sometime in their life.”

The program has had life-changing results.

“We’ve had women leave and teach guitar. We’ve had women leave and play guitar at their church. We’ve had women who are interested in composers because of the guitar, and they drew pictures of composers. It’s just bringing joy to enrich their lives.”

After 16 years of serving others with the Billings Symphony, Candy is retiring from full-time work. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer and given just four months to live. She says she is still hanging in there and looking forward to spending more time with her grandkids.

“I’ll miss the musicians. I’m going to cry. I’ll miss the staff. I’ll just miss everything,” she says. “It’s the best job that anyone could ever have it has just been totally enjoyable for me.”

To learn more about the Billings Symphony and its many programs click here: