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Hidden passion no longer

In middle school, when Ashland native Peter Hollens made a pact with his mother allowing him to drop French class, little did he know it would change the direction of his life forever.

"When you were young, you usually had to hide the fact you sang otherwise you could get beat up. The first day of choir I thought it was kind of a geeky thing to do," he said. "But I quickly realized I really liked to sing."

That fateful day led him to a hidden love of singing, which in turn led Hollens to the University of Oregon on a music scholarship and ultimately to his new gig, singing with the a cappella group based in Boston, "Ball In The House."

It was his own vocal group at the University of Oregon that got Hollens noticed.

"I was dumbfounded when I got to Oregon and discovered there was not an a cappella group on campus," he said. "In my second year at Oregon, I founded my own a cappella group, "On The Rocks," he said. "We actually did very well. We performed on "The Today Show," at the Lincoln Center and recorded two CDs that I co-produced. One of the guys from "Ball In The House" heard the CD and they flew me out to sing and I got the gig."

Hollens joined the other members of the group, founder Jon J., Tim, Aaron, Dave and Dan (the group members only use first names) six months ago and now will bring their impressive vocal talents to Oregon for the first time. The group performs Feb. 6 in Bend, closing a grand opening week of celebration at the Tower Theatre.

"It is going to be great performing near home," he said. "Actually, I am a little nervous about playing in Bend. Most of my friends are very musically inclined."

Hollens discovered his love of singing while in middle school and especially at Ashland High School.

"Russ Otte was the choir teacher at Ashland High and I have so much respect for him," he noted. "It was very easy to connect with him. He is such a sensitive, passionate man. He instilled so much fire in me and I hope that I can pass that fire on to another young person some day."

Hollens credits his voice professor, the late Peter Sacco, who lived in Ashland, as a major influence. Hollens dropped out of school with just one semester left before he graduated from Oregon. He still plans to go back and finish and carry on Otte's and Sacco's legacy and passion by becoming a choir and voice teacher.

Dropping out of school was not that difficult a decision for Hollens. But it weighed heavily on his mother.

"My mom and father are both extremely well educated," he said. "Both of them had to drop out of school while just a semester away from earning their doctorate degrees when my father became ill. It took my mom a long time to get over my leaving school. But my dad took it pretty well and told me to go out and perform."

During his six month tenure with the group, Hollens has performed all over the country, including singing the national anthem at New England Patriots, Boston Celtics and Boston Red Sox games. The group is poised to record its fifth CD in the spring and hopes to do so on its own record label.

Hollens said once he discovered the musical genre, he became an a cappella dork.

"I heard my first a cappella tape in high school and fell in love with the music," he explained. "A cappella music started in the northeast at schools like Harvard and Yale. Now it is all over the country. Penn State University has 11 to 12 a cappella groups and you can rush a cappella groups like you can rush fraternities and sororities."