Welcome, Guest

Since starting this series a few years ago, it’s always been a desire to interview my former teacher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Douglas Hill. As a performer, pedagogue, author, and composer, he has left his mark on the music world. On a personal level, he helped to shape me as an artist and human being in ways I am still discovering today. The IHS is in the process of acquiring the majority of his compositions and books for our Online Sales, so the time is ripe to share his warm-hearted wisdom with you. -KMT

Kristina Mascher-Turner: A word that often comes up in conversation with you is “gratitude” - you’ve even composed a piece with the same name. Can you tell us about this work and its conception? What are some of the things you are grateful for?

hillDoug Hill: Have you ever noticed how difficult it is for authors to acknowledge all those who helped them along the way while simply writing a single book? Well then multiply that many times over. I’ve had a good life thanks to Karen, my wonderful wife and musical companion of 52 years, a terrific and loving daughter Emily, some absolutely remarkable teachers and mentors, a diversified and very satisfying career, generous friends and colleagues, many magnificent students, and above average good health. Lots to be grateful for. Without gratitude, griping and grief are allowed way too much room to dominate. The composition you mentioned, titled “Gratitude”, began as the third movement of an octet for horns (“Recollections”), commissioned by Michael Ozment in memory of his father. While writing for him I was revisiting the fact that most of my compositions are autobiographical (that can’t be helped) and are largely rooted in either empathy, compassion, respect, or celebration. The melodies in this piece felt so good to write and have continued to stay with me. I’ve had opportunities to conduct the octet many times, often with my wonderful students, thus revisiting my own feelings of gratitude. Recently I decided to create an unaccompanied version which then evolved into two short preludes entitled “Grace/Gravitas/Gratitude”.

KMT: Let’s go back to where it all started, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Who first set you upon your musical path? What were your earliest influences and experiences?

DH: My parents were wonderfully supportive. Both had musical abilities and encouraged piano for each of us four boys, and band instruments along the way. My older brothers played trombone and cornet, so I tried to be like them and learn to buzz my lips. That made the horn easier for me at age 10 than it should have been. By junior high I was playing tunes. However, my true musical foundation came between the ages of 12 and 14 from Kenneth Freese. He was a man doing exactly what he was meant to do, teaching music to a bunch of junior high school kids. He was there to bang out some chords behind my rendition of “The Beer Barrel Polka”. He showed me how to “slap the bass” and how to read basic chord symbols at the piano. He helped me to notate the tunes that were running through my head, and then he let me show off those “compositions” to audiences full of band parents. By high school I was in a combo playing bass gigs at proms with “Dickie Von and the Softones”, and I had started lessons with Jack Snider, an amazing, tough-love horn teacher at the university. I soon became very active in local jazz combos, playing bass with amazing improvisors like Duane Schulz and his family band, and Dennis Schneider, the trumpet professor at the university, earning some decent money in local nightclubs. All this early stuff laid the groundwork for my diversified career and my respect and love for teaching and teachers, as well as playing horn well, the power of all music, jazz, and great tunes!

KMT: Did you have one “Aha!” moment you can look back upon and see that you had to be a horn player?

DH: After my junior year in high school I went, as a horn player and composition student, to the Rocky Ridge Music Center near Estes Park, Colorado. A great summer! We took a “field trip” to Greeley, Colorado for a performance of the Brahms German Requiem. It was then I knew I wanted to do that. I decided to focus on the horn and classical music. I began college as a music education major, continuing horn lessons with Jack Snider. However, after my freshman year I went to the Aspen Music Festival to study with Philip Farkas, the “man who wrote the book”. Working with Phil and hearing him and Michael Hatfield perform up close and personal, caused me to choose professional performance as my goal. I soon transferred to Indiana University. Teachers can have that sort of effect on a young ambitious musician.

KMT: Was there ever a point where you considered a full-time orchestral career? If so, what happened to change that?

DH: That was what I was doing at Indiana University, preparing all the excerpts and playing in three orchestras at a time, symphonic and opera. Farkas was at his best coaching excerpts, and I felt obligated to make sure I succeeded. He took a sabbatical during my senior year, and I was assigned to teach 11 students to help fill in. I actually got to teach some very talented individuals (including the young Dan Rauch!) Upon graduating in 1968, I auditioned for the Rochester Philharmonic to replace Verne Reynolds, quite surprisingly getting the job. That was a great year for me, but the orchestra was planning to strike and/or merge with the Buffalo Philharmonic. This would have left me without a job. During that year I missed teaching serious students and recognized my deep desire for that to be part of my professional life. I was offered a teaching position at Wilkes College in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania (a guaranteed job and an opportunity to see what that was like), and found I enjoyed the autonomy of college teaching as well as the consistent contact with the young, dedicated students. After the summer of 1970 where I was an assistant horn teacher and Festival Orchestra performer with Farkas at the Aspen Music Festival, (giving lessons to such students as Jay Wadenpfuhl and David Wakefield) I decided to get my master’s degree in performance at Yale University with Paul Ingraham, experience some New York freelance work, and then find a University position that specialized in horn teaching along with a faculty performance ensemble, hopefully along with a local part-time orchestra. After the untimely death of John Barrows in 1974, I was honored to be hired at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to teach horn along with the most amazing colleague ever, Nancy Becknell, play in the faculty Wingra Woodwind Quintet, and serve as principal horn in the Madison Symphony. I could not have hoped for more.

hills angels
“Hill’s Angels” performing under the direction of their professor at the International Horn Symposium in Los Angeles, 2015

KMT: Some of my fondest memories of studying with you came from our Friday afternoon master classes. Many teachers either seem to wing it when giving these kinds of classes, or they use them to critique students in front of their peers. Yours weren’t like that at all. Can you share your philosophy and preparation? What made them so special?

DH: The advantage of having a full-time university teaching studio is that it allows for opportunities to create a diversified and balanced learning environment, not just a private lesson format. Major cities and conservatories tend to hire wonderful, locally famous performers to provide periodic lessons as part-time faculty. I had decided early on that I wanted to do much more than that for the students. The “Montessori Method” was a major influence at that time. My wife, Karen, was a Montessori teacher, and I became fully aware that it was the environment more than the materials and words of wisdom that allowed for substantial learning. Private and consistent lessons were, of course, the foundation. Working with the full group of students together in an ensemble setting, such as a horn choir, allowed me to observe their musical choices and people skills while directly dealing with spontaneous group performance issues. Finally it was the horn classes that provided the format to fill in all of the rest: what it takes to be a solo player, an orchestral player, a chamber music performer, auditioner, private teacher, college teacher, supportive colleague, administrator, historian, acoustician, instrument repair person, composer, music critic, etc….you get the picture. These college years are the time when so many life decisions are made. Perspectives are better formed when the full picture is available. I spent many hours each week creating diversified presentations, as well as venues for students to interact, share, converse, present, and evaluate what it takes to be complete musicians. I was careful to establish venues that encouraged a positive and mutually supportive group dynamic. If you want to succeed in the music profession, you have to get along with your colleagues. These weekly sessions also helped me to see more specifically what might later be addressed, in private, during the individual student lesson times.

KMT: Your book, “Extended Techniques for the Horn: A Practical Handbook for Students, Performers, and Composers” is THE reference book on the topic to this day. Can you describe the process and thinking that went into it?

DH: My dabbling into original compositions throughout high school and into college must have encouraged me to pay attention to what living composers were doing. Jazz improvisation also opened up my ears to new sounds and ideas. The Aspen Festival in 1965 and Tanglewood in 1971 featured wonderful living composers (Milhaud, Schuller, Bernstein), and programmed a great deal of contemporary music. At Indiana University I volunteered to be part of a contemporary chamber group. I simply enjoyed the challenges of much of this newer music. At Yale, in 1971 I worked privately with Yehudi Wyner on a few experimental compositions of my own and often got called on to perform the compositions requiring extended techniques. In 1978, I was invited to be part of the first Spoleto Festival USA Brass Quintet. Many new works were commissioned, and the horn parts were boring. They might as well have been off-beats. I had also at that time become a member of the Advisory Council for the IHS. My first proposed project was to commission new works for the horn. Ernst Krenek, among others, was invited to write something. Soon afterwards, he contacted me with questions about what the horn could do, stating that his only source of information was the Harvard Dictionary of Music. He also said that his horn-playing friends and colleagues discouraged him from doing anything out of the ordinary! That tipped the scale for me. I decided it was time to study hundreds of scores and read what I could find regarding extended techniques for some of the other brass and wind instruments, to see what the most adventurous composers had requested and expected. That laid the groundwork for my book. I then created an original user-friendly format for both performers and composers. It included specific categories in a graph-like format naming the effect, showing the notation, describing the sound, explaining the technique(s) necessary, and subjectively commenting on many important considerations. Next I composed brief musical examples demonstrating each chapter’s materials and recorded 65 composite examples so that composers, players and teachers could hear what my words attempted to describe. I am so happy that our Society will be making this readily available soon through the IHS Online Music Sales!

KMT: The compositional side of your career has yielded a wide variety of musical styles: melodic, jazz-influenced, and Native American-themed in particular come to mind. What gets you “in the zone” to compose a new piece?

DH: Almost anything can trigger a new piece as long as there is time to follow through. During the academic year at the university, it was almost impossible to write a new extended work. I might jot down a melody, but to dig deeper required a month or two. The summers were when I did the majority of my composing. When commissioned I’m always motivated, primarily because there is someone or some event to write for. Knowing that a piece will be performed provides a focus and a goal that motivates. Writing for my colleagues and students felt like a wide-open workshop to try anything. The act of composing, getting totally lost in new ideas, is fun. Spending unstructured time trying to figure out a way to make a sequence of sounds that please, provoke, excite, soothe, or maybe even entertain is such a wonderful place to go. I just love getting lost in that timeless zone. The many ideas and inspirations form from my varied topics of interest such as nature, birds, poetic writings, American history, particular people, events, life, death. They are then realized through many musical genres such as jazz, multi-cultural, classical, and avant-garde. My music seems to have always been about something. The fact that I didn’t consider myself primarily “a composer” allowed me to compose recreationally and randomly. Anything I chose to write at any particular time was all okay. I’m always pleased and often amazed that others have enjoyed so many of my “songs”.

KMT: On the topic of teaching, you’ve often stated that you don’t teach horn; you teach people. How do you tailor your approach to individual students?

DH: I believe that we don’t actually “teach” others anything, We provoke others into thinking for themselves. It’s about the relationship between two people. During lessons, the subject was primarily the horn and its music, but the objective was meaningful communication between individuals. In my text published in 2001, titled Collected Thoughts on Teaching and Learning, Creativity and Horn Performance, there are three chapters that discuss in detail many of my concepts and practices as a facilitator. Trying to understand how teaching and learning works is how I spent a huge majority of my career of 40-plus years. I read a lot of books on the “inner game”, teaching and learning theories, visualization, biofeedback, basic human psychology. The chapters titled “The Respond-able Teacher” and “The Responsible Student” say a lot. We as teachers/facilitators, need to discover what each student is bringing to each lesson. This may come through the horn and the music, but it might also come through thoughtful, mutual conversation. We would often talk at the beginning of each lesson so that I might know where the student’s head is on that particular day. I believe every student is doing the best they can at any given moment. A teacher needs to be able to empathize, to be open and responsive. The student needs to feel responsible for providing the teacher with what needs to be known to complete this circle of communication and to allow for a productive lesson.

KMT: You taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1974-2011. That’s a long time! Over the decades, how have the skills students needed to make a musical career changed?

DH: That’s a complex question. (You are right about that being a “long time” though). Over the years it has become nearly impossible for anyone to get hired as a horn instructor at a college or a university without a doctorate and a secondary credential such as a music theory, musicology, or conducting minor. Most positions will require that you teach additional coursework. Then too, the playing skills required for a full-time performance position have advanced dramatically. The bottom line is that there are still jobs out there (less perhaps in the public schools) but now there are many more capable individuals auditioning and applying for those same jobs. Piecing together a combination of part-time jobs playing and teaching in communities other than the busiest cities has worked for many, but it requires a greater breadth of skills, (people and entrepreneurial), solid determination, and patience.

KMT: The IHS is in the privileged position to acquire the bulk of your catalogue for our Online Sales. How did this come about, and what are some of the gems we can find there?

DH: Looking back at your earlier question regarding gratitude, this project ranks right near the top. In 2015 at the IHS Symposium in Los Angeles, I was asked by Daren Robbins, the Online Music Sales editor, if I would like to have many of my horn-related compositions and pedagogical materials made readily available through the IHS. What an honor! And at this stage in my life, what a wonderful way for me to contribute to, and give back to the Society. The fact that I own the copyrights to a large majority of my music and books, and have been able to acquire a few others, allows us to post these works from across my many years of teaching and composing. Daren and his co-editors are hard at work cleaning them up and recreating PDF’s of everything from unaccompanied solos and horn duos through quartets, a quintet, a work for Solo and 8 Horns, many chamber works with piano, voice, winds, brass, strings and percussion, even a few pieces for Alphorn and natural horn. The pedagogical books now online include Extended Techniques for Horn, High Range for the Horn Player, Low Range for the Horn Player, From Vibrato to Trills to Tremolos, Warmups and Maintenance Sessions, and French Horn Basics: Questions Answered. There are still other publications of mine out there for which I hope to acquire the copyrights, so this is an extensive, ongoing project.

KMT: Having worn so many hats throughout your career, moving into retirement must have been a major adjustment. How has it been for you? What has kept you busy, and what has given you fulfillment?

DH: Not long after retiring, I made the difficult decision to stop playing the horn. I had 50 wonderful years as a performer and 40 as a university professor. It was time to read all those books on my shelves, start a history book club and meet new friends, take out my string bass and play some jazz, and write new tunes with a front-room combo full of old and new colleagues. For ten months I was the chair of a search committee for our church’s new music director. I also play bass and narrate for Gilda’s Glee Club, a wonderful group of largely cancer survivors who perform popular songs, old jazz tunes, and Broadway melodies for nursing homes, rehab centers, and Alzheimer patients. My bass playing was from my early years, and many of these songs were from that time, too. These tunes certainly seem to foster memories for many of the aging and often struggling people we play for. What a joy it is to see them light up, remembering and often singing along. I’ve recently begun the process of contributing my extensive collections of horn music LP’s and CD’s to the UW-Madison Mills Music Library. I’ve also begun to organize an archive of my original teaching materials, manuscripts, and notes relating to my compositions and book preparations. That, and family, and yard work, and finally having time to follow some of our local sports teams is what is keeping me busy. You asked also what brings me fulfillment. I’d have to say that hearing from, and knowing what so many of my past students have gone on to contribute to the music world, the horn profession and certainly the International Horn Society, has done a great deal to fill me with pride and hope. Great people, wonderful memories. And thanks for asking!

You can find Douglas Hill’s works in our Online Sales on the IHS website: https://www.hornsociety.org/marketplace/oms#!/Music-of-Douglas-Hill/c/21024120/offset=0&sort=nameAsc

Solo Recordings: crystalrecords.com; "Douglas Hill / The Modern Horn” CD373, "Music for Horn and Piano” CD670, gmrecordings.com/cat-classical: “A Solo Voice” LP only, GM2017

Selected Recorded Compositions: reallygoodmusic.com; “Thoughtful Wanderings - Compositions by Douglas Hill”, (double CD), “Scenes from Sand County” Oakwood Chamber Players, summitrecords.com; “Shared Reflections - The Legacy of Philip Farkas”, gailwilliamshorn.com; “Horn Muse” (“Set of Songs and Dances”), crystalrecords.com; “The Feast Awaits” (“Time Pieces for Brass Quintet”, “Tribal Images for Brass Quintet and Percussion”, CD567)

Compositions: manducamusic.com; “Shared Reflections for Horn Quartet”, “Reflections for Solo Horn”, “Song Suite in Jazz Style for Horn and Piano”, “Intrada for Brass Quintet”, “Intrada for Brass


Book: Collected Thoughts on Teaching and Learning, Creativity and Horn Performance, Alfred Music,

(2001) Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Just Brass, J.D.Pepper

DVD / Teaching Video: “Hill on Horn” available through reallygoodmusic.com