Good Feelings, Great Music

by Kathy Wechsler on Thu, 2007-11-01 09:16

Richard Holland spends much of the day composing and arranging R&B, pop and gospel music from his home digital recording studio in West Newton, Pa.

After receiving a diagnosis of ALS in 2005, Holland, 57, has had to alter the way he creates music.

Shake your groove thing

For Holland, music always has been a way of life. He started playing the piano at age 5 and grew up playing the keyboard and flute in local bands. While playing in a band called Shaker, he met his future wife, Pamela, who also is a musician.

Richard Holland and wife Pam, also a musician, in their home digital recording studio.
Richard Holland and wife Pam, also a musician, in their home digital recording studio.

The couple married in 1980, the same year Shaker was invited to be the backup band for Peaches & Herb, a group with two Top 10 hits in 1979 and 1980, “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Reunited.” For three years, Holland was Peaches & Herb’s keyboard player and musical director, touring with the band across the country and through Germany, Canada and the Philippines.

In 1983, Shaker decided to once again go on its own. The band’s musical talents took them to the Caribbean, Germany and Greenland.

“I enjoyed playing out and loved all the traveling throughout the world,” Holland says.

In 1986, the members of Shaker decided to go their separate ways, and Holland began teaching music at Pittsburgh’s Craig Academy, an alternative school for emotionally-disturbed children. He spent his free time as an organist and choir director for First Presbyterian Church of Monongahela, Pa. Holland and Pamela also performed in several local bands and backed up The Vogues, (the band’s “Five O’Clock World” was used as the theme song for “The Drew Carey Show in 1998) a gig they did for seven years.

“Once I got in a band with my wife, it brought us even closer together,” Holland notes.

For five years, Holland, Pamela and her son, Bradley Holland Hurlburt, now 30, had their own disco and Motown trio called Two Hot. During that time, they also composed music for radio and TV ads.

After his ALS diagnosis, Holland, who always had been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, composed the team’s 2005 Super Bowl song, “Go Steelers.” A blend of family members provided vocals for the song, including Pamela and their daughter, Erika Walker, 27; and Hurlburt, and his wife Debbie Hurlburt. To hear “Go Steelers,” visit


While he has had to give up actually playing his instruments, Holland is able to continue his musical career through the use of technology. Using a combination of music software programs like ProTools, Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) and Voyetra, he composes and arranges the music for R&B, pop and gospel songs by typing in one note at a time.

With the computer programs, Holland can make complete arrangements with drums, bass, guitar and keyboard. Both Holland and Pamela write lyrics for their songs, and Pamela performs the vocals.

“It’s always satisfying to hear back what I’ve created, although it‘s much harder and time consuming to type everything in. The computer technology has enabled me to continue to compose, even after I couldn’t play,” says Holland.

Adds Pamela, “It’s amazing what he can do [in his studio]. His hands can’t play the keyboard anymore, but he can use the mouse. When he plays it back, you would never know he didn’t play it.”

These days, one of the Hollands’ main goals is getting their music published. To do this, they submit their songs to TAXI, an Independent Artist & Repertoire (A&R) company that looks for promising music to forward to record companies, publishers, and music supervisors. The Hollands have just had a song forwarded and are waiting to hear back.

Another focus for the Hollands is composing gospel music for their church choir and writing for the youth choir. Visit to get a sample of Holland’s current music.

Although he relies on a power wheelchair and ventilator, Holland puts a positive spin on having ALS.

“It gave me time to concentrate on our own music,” Holland says. “Music is such a different frame of mind, almost a different world. Music allows me to forget about the disease and focus on the good feelings.”

“We both feel that the love and music we share is everlasting and there is nothing in this world, even ALS, that can take that away from us,” says Pamela. “We have been blessed beyond measure.”

Kathy Wechsler
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