Music News & Reviews

Kentucky percussion student gets a taste of the professorial life he desires

Colin Hill is one of three doctoral students running the University of Kentucky's percussion studies program this semester.
Colin Hill is one of three doctoral students running the University of Kentucky's percussion studies program this semester.

For the better part of his time as a student, Colin Hill has dreamed of being a teacher.

That especially has held true during the three years he has spent as a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky School of Music. While studying with percussion studies professor James Campbell, Hill began educating the younger players in the school's percussion ensemble. He also was visiting instructor at Centre College in Danville, giving private lessons and working with the college's percussion group on a weekly basis.

That meant Hill had to do double duty with two colleges. But that was exactly the kind of full plate a prospective professor was looking for.

"Jim has been really good about teaching you about what it takes to teach at the college level and what kinds of things you have to do on a daily basis," Hill said of Campbell. "So he really hands a lot of responsibility over to the doctoral students, which I think is different than at other programs across the nation. In those programs, you learn to be better players, but you don't do a lot of teaching. At UK, you're teaching percussion ensemble on a regular basis, you're teaching private lessons on a regular basis. It's much more hands on, which is great."

As Hill winds up his final semester at UK, the teaching opportunity is being magnified. A year ago, Campbell announced that he was going on sabbatical for the winter semester in 2013. That meant the doctoral students Campbell has so entrusted with instructional duties would be handed the reins of UK's entire percussion studies program — including directional duties for the percussion ensemble's final performance of the school year, which will be Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

"Instead of bringing in another professor to replace Jim, the doctoral students were kind of placed in charge of the studio," Hill said. "We usually have one student come in each year, so we have a first-, a second- and a third-year doctoral student. Since I'm the third-year guy, I'm kind of heading operations. But all three of us are heavily involved, and all three of us are taking on Jim's responsibilities.

"It's been a learning experience, that's for sure. There's a lot of paperwork. We're submitting things to the school, budget requests — a lot of logistical things behind the scenes. This is kind of real world, on-the-spot training. But it's not just me that's taken on these responsibilities. It's been all three of the doctoral students."

As far as Sunday's concert is concerned, the three doctoral students — Hill, Jonathan Sharp and Brandon Arvay — and School of Music graduate Kyle Forsthoff will rotate duties as conductor for the percussion ensemble, overseeing a composition that each has selected for the program.

"We wanted to make sure the program had some balance to it in terms of the genres, instrumentation and number of players that perform on each piece," Hill said. "So it was a collaborative thing, yet also individual in that we chose pieces that we wanted to play with the ensemble."

Hill will conduct Stephen Gorbos' Push, a work of shifting tempos and moods that begins with quiet, contemplative passages before migrating into sections that are essentially danceable. Gorbos, who holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Yale and Cornell universities, describes Push as "ultimately being on the lighter side of things."

"When you're listening to a new piece, you just hope it strikes a chord with you," Hill said. "And this is one of those pieces. There are very contrasting sections between slow and fast material. It was actually the slower material that caught my attention. It uses a lot of cymbals, a lot of really shimmering sounds. It's very free-sounding, very legato. The faster material tends to take over towards the end. But the contrasts are what make this piece so cool."

What happens after Sunday? Hill will continue teaching at Centre and handling percussion instruction with Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras. There will be lots of job applications in his future, too. But getting a chance to put his love of teaching onstage during his final weeks as a student is a significant thrill.

"I couldn't have planned it any better," he said. "I didn't know that Jim was going to be on sabbatical until about a year ago, so it's not like I planned this. But I can't think of a better way to finish out my career as a student at UK."


UK Percussion Ensemble

When: 3 p.m. April 7

Where: Singletary Center for the Arts' Concert Hall, 405 Rose St.

Admission: Free

Learn more: (859) 257-4929,