Academy alumna Andrea Hill reflects on her beginnings

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She’s living in Paris and performing on stages all across Europe now, but Calgary-born mezzo soprano Andrea Hill says her heart will always be in her hometown.

Spring will see her performing throughout France and at Italy’s world-renowned opera house La Scala.

But the singer always makes time for family here in Calgary.

During a visit home last week, Hill took some time to reconnect with her family at the Mount Royal Conservatory, too. The Academy for Gifted Youth alumna chatted with us about her exciting future performances, and reflected on her beginnings as a student in the Conservatory.

“I spent a lot of time at Mount Royal as a kid,” said Hill, who had an early musical start playing piano at age two and singing in children’s choirs.

But after singing her first solo at 14 (we asked: it was “When I Sing” written by Canada’s Bill Henderson for the movie Bye Bye Blues), Hill’s focus on performance became stronger.

It helped that her Mount Royal Conservatory voice teacher was also artistic director of the Academy for Gifted Youth vocal program.

Elaine Higgin Case encouraged her talented teenage student to pursue vocal training through the Academy.

“Elaine was the catalyst,” said Hill, 33. “I come from a very non-musical family, a very academic, engineer-oriented family. Before I met Elaine, music was a hobby. It was never something I considered doing for a living. She was the person who showed me it didn’t have to be something on the side. She encouraged me.”

By age 17, Hill successfully auditioned for the Academy.

That stepping stone led Hill to McGill University where she earned a Bachelor’s of Music with high distinction. She also gained a Master’s of Music at the University of Maryland.

Looking back, Hill says she’s grateful for her early Academy training.

“It gives something of a launching pad. You’re still at home but you have these wonderful teachers and clinicians. These kids are speaking with acclaimed artists to learn firsthand to see if you like it, do you want to work on these languages, the pressure of having to learn it and get it mounted. It really adds more depth.”

Since 1980, the Academy training program has prepared young students for future music study. Not all students pursue a professional performance career, but the program sets them up for success.

“It’s quite intense,” said Hill. “I remember learning IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet’s system of symbols for pronouncing vowels and consonants in all languages). I met people at  McGill and during my Master’s degree who had not yet learned IPA, I learned that in the Conservatory. They really do go in depth into the tools that are required.”

Hill now keeps a hectic schedule traveling the globe for festivals and performing on the operatic stage. She is well-known for her talents throughout Europe. She recently performed her first role as Carmen to critical acclaim, and landed the role of Hansel in the Paris Opera’s upcoming production of Hansel and Gretel.

“Mostly my life is singing, learning scores and operas, and fun creative projects on the side, like piano and knitting,” she said.

“I’m getting to a point where I know how to use my own instrument.”

Check out Andrea Hill’s website for details on upcoming performances.

By Sherri Zickefoose, March 4, 2014

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