Tunes & talk: Prayer Breakfast to feature VandenBergWORTHINGTON — Since graduating — magna cum laude, nonetheless — from Minnesota State University, Mankato, in 2008, Holly VandenBerg has focused on advancing her music career. She studied music and public speaking in college and will combine the two disciplines during her first-ever prayer breakfast appearance, the 19th annual Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast April 14 in Worthington.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Since graduating — magna cum laude, nonetheless — from Minnesota State University, Mankato, in 2008, Holly VandenBerg has focused on advancing her music career. She studied music and public speaking in college and will combine the two disciplines during her first-ever prayer breakfast appearance, the 19th annual Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast April 14 in Worthington.
“This is the first prayer breakfast, but not my first public speaking event,” asserted Holly, who lives in Pipestone. “I hope to get more of these. I’ve done public speaking since middle school, was on the speech team in middle school and high school, so I’ve done this for a long time.”
Both speaking and performing come naturally for Holly, who lost her sight due to detached retinas when she was just 8 months old. She had six eye surgeries, but the doctors weren’t able to salvage any of her sight. It was initially devastating to her family, but Holly was encouraged to explore her world through touch, and it soon became apparent that the young girl also had an affinity for sounds.
“I received a miniature keyboard for my first birthday,” explains Holly in the biography on her website, www.hollysmusic.com. “I loved it more than anything I had. I took it with me wherever I went as if it were a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. My family was not musically inclined, which was the reason my mother didn’t feel piano lessons were the right thing for me. However, when I was 5, at my grandmother’s insistence, I was enrolled in piano lessons. My mother brought me to the piano teacher’s house. When she returned to pick me up, we were excited to show here what I had learned. I had perfect pitch! I could name every note on the piano, and I had learned two new songs.”
Holly continued to take piano lessons through her junior year in college. She plays a wide variety of musical genres, including her own compositions, which she began putting together at age 6.
“I was sitting at my Yung Chang baby grand piano. My feet barely could reach the pedals,” related Holly. “The song was called ‘In the Bamboo Forest.’ It is unique because it is performed using only the black keys. It gives the song an Asian feel, which represents my love for not only the Asian culture, but other cultures as well. Since then I have composed hundreds of pieces that I have performed in front of many large crowds along with songs from other artists.”
Her first performance was at age 8, and Holly has been appearing before audiences ever since. Her first CD of music, “Holly From the Heart,” was released in 2006.
“My second one, ‘Sweet Escape,’ was while I was still in college, then I did a Christmas album, “Christmas with Holly,” she said. “I did the newest one, called ‘Play It Again,’ last year.”
The most recent recording features rock-inspired, easy listening piano solos. She promotes her CDs with public appearances throughout the region and a Facebook fan page.
“I’ve been playing at different festivals. The holiday times are my favorite ones. I played at Coburns grocery store (in Pipestone), right next to the big Mountain Dew display, for their Taste of the Holidays event,” she said. “I’ve done that for a few years in row. I also played at a couple different banks around Pipestone. I have a big gig coming up, a pirate-themed party. You just never know what kind of gigs you’re going to get.
“Last supper I played at various restaurants in downtown Sioux Falls on Friday and Saturday nights,” she added. “I’m going to be doing that this summer, too.”
But Holly is particularly excited for the Worthington event and the message that she will deliver.
“It’s going to be a positive inspirational speech about counting your blessings and being grateful for what you have,” she explained. “People can name off all the negative things — everyone probably has a list a mile long — but you’ve got to take each day and look at what’s positive about that day: I went swimming, I got a good night’s sleep.
“Of course, I will intertwine it with music, play songs that will relate to what I’m talking about. And I’ll throw in some humor, too, be lighthearted and funny. I know I’ll need to wake people up at that time of the morning.”
The 19th annual Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the Early Risers Kiwanis Club, is set for 8 a.m. April 14 at the American Reformed Church, 1720 N. Burlington Ave. Tickets can be obtained in advance at the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, 372-2919; Johnson Eye Clinic, 376-5535; Ax Photo, 376-9191; or from any Early Riser Kiwanis member.
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Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327