Penrith local Dr Holly Harrison has won the coveted Western Sydney University (WSU) Chancellor’s Alumni of the Year Award as part of the Town & Gown fundraising event last month.
Having completed a Bachelor of Music with Honours in 2010 and a Doctor of Creative Arts in 2014, Dr Harrison has a long history at WSU.
Since then, she’s taken on the world, working as a professional freelance composer to write music for ensembles such as four-time Grammy Award-winning US group Eighth Blackbird, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, as well as arrangements for Monique Brumby and Tim Minchin.
Dr Harrison is currently Composer in Residence with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and is active as a mentor for composer development programs across the country, fostering the next generation of composers.
Despite this, the win undoubtedly took her by surprise.
“I was incredibly surprised and humbled to receive this award, especially given the calibre of finalists,” she said.
“The list of nominees included CEOs, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and an environmental advisor to the UN, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered I, a composer, was the recipient!”
For Dr Harrison, receiving highest honour the Alumni Awards can bestow is bigger than just her.
“[It’s] is an important acknowledgement of all artists living and working in Western Sydney and our place on the world stage. I hope this award signals a shift in how we think about artists and what we contribute to society – music and the arts are not simply ornaments in life, but part of the entire fabric of it,” she said.
“Working in the arts has never been harder than through the pandemic, with most of us having gigs cancelled for two years straight. It’s never been a better time to highlight and rebuild the arts in our community and beyond!”
As part of the Town & Gown celebrations, the University also announced it was establishing the ‘Peter Shergold Refugee and Asylum Seeker Scholarships Fund’, recognising the retiring Chancellor’s legacy as a leading voice for education, social justice and social inclusion.
The event raised $2 million to help support scholarships for refugee and asylum seeker students, with the help of generous sponsors and donors.
Cassidy Pearce is a news and entertainment journalist with The Western Weekender. A graduate of the University of Technology Sydney, she has previously worked with Good Morning Macarthur and joined the Weekender in 2022.