Limestone Professor Brings Western Approach of Music Lessons to China
Chip Hill China Web

Limestone Music Professor Dr. Harry "Chip" Hill in Zhenghou, China.

For the past 16 years, Limestone College Music Professor and clarinetist Dr. Harry "Chip" Hill has spent a good portion of his summers as an instructor with the highly acclaimed MasterWorks Festival in Indiana teaching students from throughout the world.

 In August, however, Dr. Hill and 13 of his fellow MasterWorks faculty members took a serious road trip to the other side of the world. A middle school in Zhengzhou, China served as their home away from home while they shared their Western approach to music lessons with some 100 students.

"In Indiana, MasterWorks is a four-week fine arts festival with lessons in theatre, dance, voice, orchestra, and piano. For our venture in China though, we focused on orchestra only," explained Dr. Hill. "While our students in Indiana range in ages from 14-27, the average age of our students in Zhengzhou was 14. The middle school where we gave lessons is operated by the Chinese government; it is a very prestigious and specialized school and features an emphasis on English."

Dr. Hill's involvement with MasterWorks began in 1996 when he saw a promotional flyer for the organization. "I was especially intrigued by the fact that it is a music festival that encourages students and teachers to excel in their art and their Christian witness, he said. "It's not uncommon in the art world for a Christian to feel somewhat in the minority, which is why I have been so thrilled to meet other Christian artists from throughout the world among the MasterWorks faculty. The experience truly has opened a network of artists who are also brothers and sisters in Christ."

In China, however, Dr. Hill and the other MasterWorks faculty members had to watch what they said concerning their beliefs. "We generally had a government representative present at just about every event, even rehearsals and recitals, paying attention to what we said and did. If it was thought that we were being too open with our beliefs, then we could have been expelled from the country. But the good news was that we were told we could answer any question that was asked by the students," explained Dr. Hill. "There was actually a government official in the audience for my recital, and while I was careful not to give a 'testimony' per se, I did talk about my family because it is such a big part of who I am. After the recital, the government official made a point of reaching out to me to say that my performance of 'Danny Boy' spoke to his heart and that he thoroughly enjoyed the recital."

According to Dr. Hill, one of the biggest differences in the approach to study music in China as opposed to here in the United States is the emphasis on learning repertoire. "In China, there seems to be a tendency to inundate the student with lots of pieces to learn, rather than mastering one concept of playing and progressing onto the next. You find many young players performing very difficult repertoire while displaying numerous deficiencies in the fundamental techniques. Here in the U.S. and other Western countries, the approach is not so much on learning the repertoire, but learning to play the instrument correctly so that then you can play the music.

To accentuate that point, Dr. Hill recalls his last day in China. "I received a call from a Chinese student who had attended the MasterWorks Festival in Indiana and wanted to bring a clarinetist friend of his by my hotel room for a lesson. We're talking about a young man who majored in music in college and plays the clarinet professionally, so he knows what he's doing. He played for me and I described to him how his mouth and tongue were not in the correct position to get the best sound. I worked with him until he made the necessary changes, and when he played again, he immediately heard the improvement. His response was, "no one ever told me that."

In just two weeks, the students in Zhengzhou, China experienced just a sampling of the same tremendous teaching skills displayed by Dr. Hill that his students at Limestone have experienced since he joined the College's Music Department faculty in 1985. In 2011, he was recognized as Limestone's recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award from South Carolina Independent College and Universities Inc. (SCICU). On three separate occasions, he has been selected by his peers at Limestone to receive the Fullerton Foundation Faculty Award.

In addition to his responsibilities as an instructor at Limestone, Dr. Hill has served as the principal clarinetist of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra since 1985, is also second/utility clarinetist with the Spartanburg Philharmonic
Orchestra and is the founder, coordinator, and principal clarinetist of the Arbor Wind Trio. He has been a featured soloist with the Asheville and Hendersonville Symphony Orchestras, the Foothills Philharmonic, as well as the Atlanta and Western North Carolina Chamber Orchestras. His professional performing career has allowed him to perform with orchestras throughout the Southeast including Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Tallahassee, Greenville and Knoxville. Dr. Hill has been a guest artist at the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival and served as the principal clarinetist for the Mostly Modern Chamber Players.

Dr. Hill has also performed with numerous artists including Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Dinah Shore, Shirley Jones, Tony Bennett, Billy Taylor, and Midori. His clarinet playing has been featured in television commercials for the Lincoln Mercury Corporation and the Ingle's Grocery chain.