The English Organist, choir conductor, composer, teacher, Derek Holman, studied from 1948 to 1952 at the Royal Academy of Music with Sir William McKie, Eric Thiman, and York Bowen.
For two years, 1952-1954, Derek Holman was an instructor in the Royal Army Educational Corps with the British Army of the Rhine, but he returned to music as master 1954-1956 at Westminster Abbey Choir School and went on to become assistant organist 1956-1958 at St Paul's Cathedral. He was organist 1958-1965 at Croydon Parish Church and founder in 1960 of the Croydon Bach Society. From 1956 to 1965 he was tutor, then subwarden, and finally warden of the the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM).
Derek Holman moved to Canada in 1965 and served as organist-choirmaster at Toronto's Grace Church on-the-Hill 1965-1979 and choirmaster 1965-1970 at Bishop Strachan School. In 1967 he joined the staff of the University of Toronto. He directed the Concord Singers of Toronto 1973-5 and the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus 1975-1985. He became organist-choirmaster at Toronto's Church of St Simon the Apostle in 1981.
Several of Derek Holman's tunes and harmonizations appear in The Hymn Book (1971) of the Anglican and United churches of Canada, for which he was a consultant. His commisioned works include Eight Carols for Choir, Soloists, Orchestra and Audience, for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and Weatherscapes for the Ontario Choral Federation (and premiered in Kingston by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Canadian Brass). The most important of his several collaborations with Robertson Davies is the opera Doctor Canon's Cure, commissioned by the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus, which also commissioned, and recorded, the carol sequence Sir Christëmas (the recording, which also includes two of his arrangements, won a 1990 National Choral Award from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors). Holman won a 1988 National Choral Award for Night Music, written in 1985 for the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir commissioned Holman's Songs of Darkness and Te Deum; for Elmer Iseler's 25th anniversary as conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Holman composed Tapestry on a commission from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Other artists and organizations that have commissioned Holman compositions include Mark Pedrotti (The Centered Passion), the Aldeburgh Connection (Nicholas Knock), the Gents (Food for Thought), and the Thirteen Strings of Ottawa (Hommage to Handel, Serenade).
Derek Holman composes in an elusively tonal, strongly rhythmic style, with frequently angular melody, exuberant polyphony, and musical wit. He writes well for voices; the best of his vocal music is characterized by idiosyncratic selection of texts, ready response to dramatic situations, a quirky, sometimes raffish sense of humour, and an intriguing sense of mysticism. He is less happy with the grandiose, which succeeds best when he does not take it seriously. He is an associate of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the Canadian League of Composers.