Hillman gets expressive, Digital to Analog

By Dagney C. Ernest | Jul 16, 2012
Photo by: Marti Stone Nathan Hillman

Rockport — Nathan Hillman of Monroe, who graduated last month from the Watershed School in Rockland, will present a concert of his own compositions Saturday, July 21 at the Rockport Opera House, 6 Central St. The 7 p.m. concert is the culmination of months of preparation — and years of composing musical works.

“I started composing my own at age 7,” he said a week before the concert, calling during his lunch break at EBS in Belfast.

Hillman was not yet 5 when he started studying the violin; currently, he plays viola, piano and accordion, the latter a new acquisition.

“I inherited it from my grandmother and it’s a real blast,” he said of his latest instrument.

Hillman’s studies of strings and piano have been primarily via Bay Chamber Concerts, first the Odeon ensembles and then the Bay Chamber Music School, which opened in 2010. So he decided to ask for a suggested donation of $5 to benefit Bay Chamber at the door of the concert, which is titled Music Expression: Digital to Analog.

The incentive to put on a concert came from Malcolm Brooks of Rockport, with whom Hillman has been studying composition at the music school. One of the eight pieces to be performed is “Violatest,” a nine-voice work he recorded with himself playing all the lines.

“It was an ensemble of me and when he heard it, he said, ‘Nathan, you have to perform this!’ That’s where the idea came from,” said Hillman.

Translating this particular work from digital to analog meant transcribing some of the parts from viola to other instruments; Hillman has a number of talented colleagues from Odeon and Watershed, but nine viola players is a bit much to ask for. “Violatest” will be performed with a string octet (violins, violas and cellos) and clarinet. Also on the program are a string quartet, septet and octet; a piano solo movement from a sonata; “Rising Sea” and “Rings of Saturday” for different combinations of strings; and “Wind” for four-hand piano and clarinet.

Joining Hillman, playing viola and piano, in the Music Expression concert will be sisters Josie and Sophie Davis of Waldoboro, Fiona Boyd of Camden and Beth Chase of Warren on violin; Teal Vickery of Rockland on violin and viola; Nora Willauer of Hope and Duncan Hall of Camden on cello; Elizabeth Cox of Camden on clarinet; and Ben Moon-Black of Damariscotta on piano. Most of the young people have performed together before. For several years, the Davises, Willauer and Hillman performed as the Calliope Quartet; more recently, Boyd, Hall, Vickery and Hillman performed as Kräftig; and Hillman and Boyd were part of Watershed School's African drumming ensemble Ashanti Kotoko, led by master drummer Jordan Benissan.

Hand drum is another instrument for Hillman, and his study of West African percussion has influenced his more recent compositions. The earlier ones, which he categorizes as classical in nature, were revised during his studies with Brooks as part of his Senior Presentation project at Watershed. The more recent works he described as more improvisational.

“They’re more rhythmic, I’d say, influenced by electronic music and the African drumming,” he said.

Putting together a concert turned out to be quite the endeavor, between corralling a group of busy teens for rehearsals, arranging for the physical logistics and sequencing the program.

“That surprised me; I thought a lot about the order of the program,” he said, adding there will be one intermission.

Also surprising was his reaction when he heard his compositions, which hitherto existed as his own multi-track recordings or keyboard playing, performed on the scored instruments by his colleagues.

“I was stunned! It was just amazing to me, having only heard computer renditions … I’m looking forward to seeing what we can pull off,” he said.

Hillman is headed to Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., in the fall. He hopes to continue studying composition privately and was pleased to find a listing for Japanese drumming in the college’s options. His plan is to focus on mechanical engineering “but we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Courier Publications' A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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