Matthew Hilger marches into composing

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Matthew Hilger, freshman, works to compose multi-part band arrangements and is catching the attention of his peers and mentors.

“I grew up hearing music constantly,” Hilger, a 13-instrument musician and young composer said.

Hilger says he gets his talents from his entire family, but most notably his parents and siblings. His father was a vocalist in choir, his mother was a dancer, his older sister is a violist, and his older brother is proficient in a multitude of instruments. Having been actively playing music since he can remember and participating in the school band since the fifth grade, Hilger said that he has developed a detailed understanding of melodies and chord progressions.

“Ever since we were young, I would play music and he would want to play the piano after I did,” Jake Hilger, Matthew’s older brother and student at UMKC said. “Me and my sister being so involved in music when he was growing up definitely was a factor in his involvement in it.”

“It was already a family value, but it became life. It’s a common ground that we can all talk about. It’s been something that I can connect with him on,” Kathryn Hilger said. Kathryn is Matthew’s older sister and a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music with a masters in viola performance.

In the last few years, Matthew Hilger has even begun composing his own pieces. His most developed composition, “Fjords of Maroon,” has been catching the attention of his family, peers, and even some of the music teachers in the district.

“I sent out “Fjords of Maroon” a few weeks ago to [Clift] Thurmond, [John] Johnson, [Bryant] Knapp, [Beth] Files, my aunt, who is a voice teacher, my uncle, who is a band teacher, and [Holly] Dahn. I’m getting feedback from those teachers, doing some final touches, and then publishing it hopefully,” Matthew Hilger said.

Matthew said he’s been working on perfecting the piece for the last six months and has rewritten the main theme four different times.

“I was blown away when I first heard it. I was pretty darn impressed. I wasn’t expecting him to have such an advanced grasp on composition,” Jake Hilger said.

Matthew’s sister said she was also impressed by his talent and love of music at such a young age.

“It was very surprising to me how he was able to put that together with no knowledge of music theory; which typically is essential if you’re going to write a successful composition. He figured it out just by ear and my jaw dropped. It definitely shocked me,” Kathryn Hilger said.

With his mind prepared and motivation amped up, Matthew sits down for hours to create his pieces. “I’m writing sixteen parts at a time, going measure by measure, and I have to play the sounds in my head. I’ll write down eight measures and still have to continuously think about what I previously wrote. It definitely requires multitasking,” Matthew said.

While Matthew isn’t looking to pursue a musical performance degree straight out of high school, he said he does wish to keep it in his life for as long as possible.

“Most of it is self-motivated,” Matthew said, “Most of it is the joy of being able to say I don’t like this piece, I’m going to scrap it and start over on a completely different melody. It’s freedom.”

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