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January 8, 2004
Bucknell music professor Jackson Hill, a composer of contemporary music, has never watched the Grammy awards on television. But he might be tuning in for this year's broadcast on Feb. 8 — one of his compositions appears on a Grammy-nominated CD in the "classical crossover" category.
This is the first time one of Hill's compositions has appeared on a Grammy-nominated CD. The piece, "Voices of Autumn" ("Aki no ko-e"), appears on "Our American Journey," which was recorded by a 12-man a cappella vocal ensemble called Chanticleer and released in November 2002 on the Teldec label.
Hill doesn't expect that the award in the classical crossover category will be presented live by Britney Spears or some other well-known pop recording artist. But he does believe that the nomination gives a lot of visibility to the Chanticleer CD and the "classical crossover" category.
And it also says to Hill that rigid categories of musical styles are breaking down and that blends of different musical traditions are becoming accepted by listeners.
"What I see the nomination doing is acknowledging the notion that we are really living in a culturally global world right now," Hill says. "It shows that the amalgam of European and Asian traditions (as in `Voices of Autumn') is really a viable vocabulary."
Hill says his composition is "very strongly influenced by Asian music, and Japanese music in particular." It blends European classical traditions and traditional Asian music — "ancient Japanese imperial court music and Asian chant — one of the oldest traditions in Buddhism," Hill says.
Hill heard a recording of imperial court music for the first time when he was in graduate school, "and it just knocked my socks off. It was beautiful and astonishing music."
Among the qualities that impressed him were the music's sonorities, timbre, scales, and harmonies — all strikingly different from those in European classical music. "The music seems almost to hang in midair with no sense of forward motion, as if it were suspended in time."
"Voices of Autumn" sets to music the text of a 9th-century Japanese poem, which Hill translated himself. Hill says the piece uses several Japanese stylistic devices to create "a sense of suspended time" — a pentatonic scale, static harmonies, minimal rhythmic forward motion, glissandos, and non-European kinds of ornamentation derived from chant and ancient Japanese court music.
In October 2002, The New York Times gave a rave review to a Chanticleer performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and said that Hill's composition "was all glowing harmony."
Hill began composing at age 14 and has composed well over 100 pieces, including symphonies, music for solo piano and solo voice, church music, choral concert music, and electronic music. Last year was a particularly good year for performances and radio broadcasts of Hill's music, as well as new commissions.
In 2003, NPR and other classical radio stations have been playing Chanticleer's CD. BBC radio, as well as radio stations in Mexico and Canada, have broadcast performances of Hill's work.
Two pianists, one a Canadian and the other an Argentinian, have been performing Hill's work on tour and on French and Swiss radio. Louise Bessette, the Canadian pianist, included a Hill composition, "Tango," on a CD released in November on the Sept Jardins label.
Commissions for new compositions have come from Lichfield Cathedral in England, a London-based ensemble called The King's Singers, and from Chanticleer.