As a child, Holly Wright used to lock herself in her room. She spent countless hours practicing the guitar, determined to become “a prodigy,” she explains with a laugh. Against the backdrop of a tumultuous home life, Wright found solace and purpose in her music. Now, as the leader of a community choir called SoundWave, Wright has found a way to share the healing power of music with her community.
“Way back,” recalls Wright “a friend told me about this documentary called Young at Heart and it’s all about a fellow who starts a senior’s choir for people in a nursing home …. It is so touching. I remember when I saw it, I thought I’m going to do that one day. Little did I know some years later, I’ve moved to the island where there’s a very large senior’s population.”
Wright, who owns a café in Nanoose Bay with her partner, began to notice how many lonely people regularly visited the café. She recalled the documentary and decided to start a choir. She recently took the time to tell Leadership Victoria how she did it.
“I approached a couple people and said ‘I’m gonna start a choir and you should be in it.’” Then, Wright put up a notice in her café. Initially, around twenty-five people showed up – more than she anticipated. To Wright’s delight, the choir grew each year. Eventually, it grew to eighty people, with a lengthy waiting list.
Growing the choir from “the sign in the café … was almost easy,” says Wright. “The trickier part was getting a band together because the choir was open to people who just wanted to be with other people and sing, but the band had to be professionals because I wanted a good solid band to support the choir.” Wright reached out to her musical connections and cajoled people out of retirement.
When running the choir, Wright is a quiet, gentle leader. When asked to describe her process for helping people understand their capacity, Wright states it’s the “opposite of persuasion [it’s about] being very gentle with people [and going] out of the way to make people feel comfortable. It’s okay if you’re not brilliant.”
Wright also observes that, “people find a lot more courage and strength when they’re with a group… All of a sudden, all these people who thought they couldn’t sing are singing and suddenly their confidence is boosted, and this little, tiny voice starts growing into a bigger voice ... and all of a sudden we’re on the biggest stage that Nanaimo has to offer and we’re selling it out in six days”.
Before moving to Vancouver Island, Wright was a safety operations manager in the oil fields of Alberta. Then she went to Johannesburg, South Africa for two years on a contract. It “was such an opportunity to get to work there,” says Wright, “but of course I was really excited about the opportunity to play with some African musicians.” She made musical connections with a choir in
Soweto and recorded some songs with them. After returning from Africa, Wright “could not settle back into the corporate world.” So, she resigned and decided to come to Vancouver Island.
Wright’s advice for aspiring leaders is that “perfection is hard to achieve and exhausting. If you strive only for perfection, there’s a chance your never gonna get there but if you just allow yourself to follow your passion that can be very freeing and certainly more rewarding …. Ultimately, what I’ve ended up doing is having a rather large impact on a lot of people’s lives and that’s not through being perfect, it’s through being open and honest and allowing yourself to have fun.”
This sense of fun has ultimately had a positive effect on the choir members, as well as on Wright. Her “biggest success story [is that] astounding friendships have developed,” says Wright. “Seeing all these friendships and the support is so powerful.” She adds that, “being lighthearted, keeping it fun, doing it for the love of music … and knowing how powerful music is as a tool for bringing people together, is the key secret sauce. Just be true to yourself, just allow yourself to be and good things will happen.”
As for her personal leadership development, Wright says “this group has been very powerful for me. The choir members are always saying thank you for all you’ve done for us.” She adds, “follow your heart’s passion ‘cause that’s the most that you can be. When you do what’s really important, I think the best side of yourself comes out.”
SoundWave has postponed their show repeatedly due to Covid, but they now have a show planned for May. You can learn more about Holly Wright and SoundWave by visiting her website: