Holling Smith-Borne: ‘Facing the Music’

Holling Smith-Borne’s life is music to our ears. He has been the director of the Anne Potter Wilson Music Library at Vanderbilt University since 2006. Before that, he was the coordinator of the music library at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and prior to that, the music and fine arts librarian at Butler University in Indianapolis. And if you have attended performances by many of the musical groups in Nashville, you have probably seen him at the piano, accompanying vocalists, or conducting the choir.

But music hasn’t always been the most transformative thing in his life. “Clothes were the big issue,” he said. Early in life he rebelled against the ‘girly’ outfits his parents insisted on. And when his interest in music developed, it became even more of an issue. “Just go to an orchestra concert, a choir performance, or even that of a soloist. The dress codes are very strict. Men wear tie and jacket or a tux and women wear below-the-knee length dresses or skirts, nearly always in black.”

The irony of it is that his parents were “old school” and subscribed to the tradition that said young girls had to learn the piano. That opened a door they hadn’t anticipated, and during in his Senior year of high school Holling’s choir director took him to an audition at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (about 150 miles away from his home near Canton). That was the beginning of the end of the ‘girly garb’ for him.

Sadly, his strict family had rejected him because of his identification, first as a lesbian, and later as transgender. Fortunately, the academic world has traditionally provided something of a haven for LGBT students. For Holling, going off to college was like becoming part of a new family, even though the music department maintained the strict gender standards he despised.

It wasn’t all that smooth though. At one point, the library’s director called him into his office and told him, “There are rumors…and I want you to make them stop.” But the director didn’t know the depth of Holling’s feelings. And he also didn’t know that a gay man in the music department would go to bat for Holling and make sure gender Identity was part of the school’s anti-discrimination policy. So when at last Holling took the steps necessary to transition and begin life recognized as the man he is, he was totally accepted.

After graduating from Bowling Green with a Bachelor of Music in piano performance, he went to the University of Michigan (another academic refuge) where he got a Masters in Music Information and Library Studies (M.I.L.S.) with a specialization in music librarianship.

Perhaps more than the music, though, Holling wanted a family. So it was his good fortune when, as piano accompanist for the Indianapolis Women’s Chorus, he met the woman who would become his wife. Together they became parents to their son, who is now 14 years old and in demand as a violinist and sometimes fiddler here in Nashville.

In the meantime, Holling has been active in the Music Library Association and recently completed a term as Member-At-Large on the Board of Directors and Chair of the Education Committee. He is also active in the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC ) Users Group, where he recently served as the Treasurer, and is part of the Southeast Chapter of the Music Library Association.

A life of music is what it has been for Holling, and it continues to be. And Nashville is an ideal place for a person with Holling’s eclectic tastes. When I met with him he had just come from the Nashville Irish Festival, where his son played the fiddle with an Irish music group, and Holling confessed to me that when he isn’t attending concerts or being part of them, his favorite group is the Time Jumpers.

How fitting is that?





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