1934 - 1999
When Paul Hill, nationally noted choral conductor, died September 27, 1999, he was hailed as one who had been a central figure in making Washington, D.C. one of the nation's premier centers for choral music. His death was noted in two nationally known newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, with a photograph and an extended obituary.
Hill was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and raised and educated in Los Angeles, California. A graduate of La Sierra University and the University of Southern California, he had been a prize winning trombonist in high school and had marched as a tuba player in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.
He began his career conducting the band at Loma Linda Academy. However, when the choir director left during the school year and he was asked to lead choir, he found working with the sound of the human voice so intriguing and satisfying he switched from the band to the choral area. He would subsequently teach voice and conduct choirs at Southwestern Adventist University, Columbia Union College, Georgetown University, and the University of Maryland.
He assumed leadership of the CUC choral program in 1962. He created a select group, Pro Musica, from the larger group and then quickly established a choral sound and performance level in all his groups that delighted audiences and attracted gifted singers.
In 1967, while still at CUC, he founded the Paul Hill Chorale, a semi-professional ensemble, wanting to provide a meaningful outlet for his students after they graduated. The group quickly became a widely acclaimed choir and when the John F. Kennedy Center for the performing Arts opened in 1971, was chosen to participate in its opening ceremonies. Over the next 24 years, it would perform there numerous times under Hill's direction. From 1973 to 1976, as a celebration of the nation's bicentennial, Hill presented the chorale in a program of American choral music that was given in 27 states and enthusiastically praised by reviewers in Newsweek, Time, and the New York Times.
Hill left CUC in 1970 to devote more time to the chorale and a professional choral group he had established. He returned to conduct the choir at CUC part-time in two decades later, relishing the chance to work once again at the school where some of the most satisfying years in his career had started. Tragically, a debilitating illness, amylotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gerhig's Disease), would end his leadership of the group there in 1994.
Even though severly incapacitated, he continued to conduct his other choral groups for another year, in the end conducting only with his eyes and through motions with his head. He made his final appearance as conductor of the chorale at the Annual Christmas Candlelight Concert given in Kennedy Center in December 1995. Following what had been a profoundly moving ending of the program, with tears flowing freely as carols were sung by candlelight in the darkened hall by the choir, Hill wrote the following to them:
Suffice it to say that I do not like the prospect of not conducting any more Christmas concerts. However, we have learned, or should have learned when we were very young, that when gifts are all opened there simply aren't any more. . . . we must fully enjoy the gifts we were given, and that is precisely what I intend to do.
Noted for his ability to create an exquisite and balanced choral sound, Hill was a frequent guest conductor at numerous choral festivals in the United States. He conducted performances of Scott Joplin's Treemonisha at Wolf Trapp and prepared choruses there for performances with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the National Symphony. Hill conducted performances given in the White House and at Lincoln Center in New York City and also guest conducted the Los Angeles Master Chorale for Roger Wagner in a concert given in the Dorothy Chandler Music Pavillion.
His musical direction of the public television production of Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Old Maid and the Thief received excellent reviews. And he and the chorale received an Emmy Award in 1978 for their work in a nationally televised performance of Menotti's The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore.
Hailed by critics for the excellence of his choral work, Hill was given this country's most prestigious choral honor, The Founder's Award of Chorus America, in 1992. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by American University and in 1997, a Medallion of Excellence by Columbia Union College.
Sources: "Paul Hill in Profile, unknown author, date; "Martin Weil, "Conductor Paul Hill Dies at 65; Founded 180-Voice Choral Group," the Washington Post, 28 September 1999, B5; Sharon Scott, Paul Hill, a Life in Harmony, Washington Post, C1 and Bob Heiss, "D.C enriched by Hill's music," both articles were specials to the Washington Post, in the week of his death (September 27); Obituary, Irvin Molotsky, "Paul Hill, 65, Founder of Washington Chorus," The New York Times, 29 September 1999, A29; Personal Knowledge.