Bob Holm has performed in the Super Bowl halftime show for millions of viewers. But you probably don’t remember him.
That’s because his 1988 Super Bowl appearance was emblematic of what he has done for decades: use his virtuoso musical talent not to steal the spotlight but to help others shine — in this case Chubby Checker and The Radio City Rockettes.
Super Bowl XXII in San Diego wanted 88 grand pianos to accompany Checker in “The Super Bowl Twist.” Holm, then a piano performance major at nearby Point Loma Nazarene College (now University), auditioned and was chosen.
“We were bused in just in time to do the halftime show and bused out immediately after,” he recalled, “so we didn’t see any of the game.”
Holm went on to earn a doctorate in piano performance, win international piano awards and become principal pianist for the Mobile Symphony. He also is a Steinway Artist, which means Steinway dealers across the world supply him with concert grand pianos anywhere he’s asked to play.
Behind the scenes
Despite his accomplishments, the nature of Holms’ instrument tends to take him out of the limelight. Most of the time he’s accompanying others — a role that fits well with his Christian faith, he said. You also can find him each week playing at Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland.
“Pianists, more than any other musicians, are people who support everything else that’s going on,” Holm noted. “We have very little say most of the time in what we are going to play, but we find enjoyment in playing anything we’re assigned.” Piano is “a service-oriented instrument,” he added.
His musical and Christian journeys began around the same time. Growing up in California, both parents were in music ministry, first at a Baptist church in Redlands, then at Skyline Wesleyan Church in Lemon Grove when author John Maxwell was pastor.
Sitting on a pew through choir rehearsals, Holm came to faith in Christ and began to play piano before he can remember. After placing his faith in Jesus as Savior at age 5 or 6, he professed his faith through baptism at 10.
Holm started piano lessons at age 5 and was able to play a “semi-difficult piece” by 6. When he reached college, piano practice comprised three to four hours per day.
After earning a scholarship to a graduate school of his choice, Holm went to the University of Illinois where he earned master of music and doctor of musical arts degrees.
Then trouble hit. He searched for a job unsuccessfully for two years. Finally, his parents urged him to go back to school for math.
Holm said the situation forced him to confront a question: could a humble, quiet musician who felt happiest serving others make a career out of music?
God answered “yes” through a job offer at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, where Holm has worked 24 years. During that time, he has given recitals in China, Brazil, London and Carnegie Hall in addition to playing 53 solo recitals at South Alabama and 260 recitals with other faculty and guest artists.
When chances to play came up, “I always said yes. I’m an opportunist!” he joked.
That has meant playing everything from Beethoven and Mozart to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and even “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie.” At times music has opened doors to share his faith, especially when nonbelieving colleagues play pieces with Christian lyrics or themes and are forced to study them.
“Because I collaborate with many other musicians, I have the great opportunity to enjoy music with them and they enjoy working with me,” Holm observed. “Most musicians know that I’m a Christian, and I’ve had several opportunities to share my faith with my musical colleagues.”
In addition to serving fellow musicians, Holm has worked with Southern Baptist luminaries along the way. At home for the summers in graduate school, he played at Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California where David Jeremiah is pastor. During 21 years as pianist at Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, he worked alongside pastors Clint Pressley, Adam Dooley and Blake Newsome among others, as well as interim pastor Jimmy Draper.
Since joining Shiloh Baptist in 2018, he has become known for his piano specials and a series of Sunday afternoon recitals he calls “Hymns and Classics.”
Holm “exhibits the rare qualities of musical excellence and humility,” said Al Miller, Shiloh minister of music and dean of the University of Mobile’s Alabama School of the Arts. “Those two qualities rarely share the same platform.
“A Steinway Artist, his skill has been demonstrated in international competitions, symphony orchestras, university and church settings.
“Bob is one of my favorite musicians and a joy with which to work and minister.”
Holm’s next Hymns and Classics recital is set for Feb. 20 and will be livestreamed at www.shilohsaraland.com.