Aaron S. Hill is an emerging classical composer and male soprano currently studying composition at UMKC's Conservatory of Music and Dance. His work, which includes a symphony, string quartets, a one-act opera and works for tuba, piano and voice, has been performed locally and internationally, most recently at the Zodiac Academy and Festival in Valdeblore, France. We are thrilled to share an interview with Aaron, as well as his book, music and movie recommendations.
Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
My name is Aaron S. Hill and I am a composer and male soprano living and working in Kansas City, MO.
How long have you been a composer? Who were your earliest influences?
I've been composing since I was in sixth grade, but only really started taking it seriously in 2012 when I finished my first round of music theory at St. Charles Community College. My early compositions were piano preludes, a few attempts at string quartets, and an orchestral tone poem I conducted my final year there. My earliest influences were Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, and, honestly, my first orchestra director, Mary Sweetin. She really helped me understand basic orchestration and was an early composition mentor to me as well. In fact, I still think of her as really being the catalyst of launching me into my current degree field.
Describe your experience as a composition student at UMKC’s Conservatory. What does it mean to study composition? How has your work grown since you started the program?
The UMKC Composition department, in my experience, has a very open, supportive environment and are especially encouraging and willing to really offer many opportunities to the undergraduates. When studying composition at UMKC, you get a very personalized experience where you are in control of what you want to write, when you want to write it. The composition faculty then gives you suggestions, points you in the direction of piece that could help inspire you, and act as a support to help you get to where you need/want to go. Their focus is to try and help you get to the point where you find your own voice, and they do this by exposing you to a variety of styles and tools then teach you how to utilize those tools. I feel like since I arrived here, my work has grown more complex, more personal, and more focused. I discovered that I love writing opera, and as a male soprano I want to do what I can to expand the countertenor/male soprano rep in modern opera. I have found opportunities to experiment with this through amazing collaborations with Lyric Opera of KC and other students at UMKC.
What tools do you use for composing? What may surprise a listener about how your music is created?
I primarily do my notation through Finale 2014.5, but when coming up with ideas I use a variety of different tools. Sometimes I use the piano, my cello, my violin, or for visualizing more complex textures, I simply sing it to myself. Lately, I've been thinking about returning to pencil and paper for a bigger piece I want to write, to see how tearing myself away from the computer will affect my writing. Something that might surprise the listener is that a lot of the time, when creating my music, I usually compose in a kind of "loop-de-loop" process. I start writing, I eventually stop, go back and edit, then continue composing, then repeat the process. Once it's done, then I then do a final sweep of editing after a few showings.
What inspires you the most about the Kansas City classical music community?
I think that what I like about the Kansas City classical music community is that it is so open to new ideas and novel ways of creating music. The new music scene is a lot stronger here than where I'm from. In fact, what I love most about this city is the general atmosphere here. The architecture and culture here really help me get in the mood to compose. and a trip to the plaza usually helps me when I'm in a slow spot
Aaron's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
1. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche
2. The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins
3. Wicked by Gregory Maquire
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
5. Das Rheingold (Opera DVD)
6. The Rite of Spring, Fireworks; The Firebird Suite by Stravinsky (CD)
7. Black Angels by Kronos Quartet, CD
8. The Ligeti Project (CD)
9. Phantom of the Opera (silent film, DVD)
10. Dial M for Murder (DVD)