Colorado Symphony’s William Hill turns to Edgar Allan Poe for inspiration

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<p>(Photo: Courtesy of Colorado Symphony)</p>
<p>Colorado Symphony principal timpanist William “Bill” Hill.</p>
Photo: Bill Hill The Raven full
Colorado Symphony principal timpanist William Hill.

Photo: Bill Hill The Raven full

Colorado Symphony principal timpanist William Hill has loved the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe since he was a boy and now he's using one of the writer's famous poems in his latest composition.

It goes by the same name as the poem -- "The Raven" -- and is a large-scale piece for chorus and orchestra. It will be performed by the Colorado Symphony and Chorus this Friday and Saturday evening at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver.

Hill, who began working on this project about three years ago with the chorus' conductor, Duain Wolfe, spoke with CPR News in anticipation of the world premiere.

Hill on why he wanted to use "The Raven"

"Poe is my favorite [American writer], and this particular poem just really lends itself, I think, to my music, if you read it out loud, which of course by now I've done hundreds of times."

On how he interprets the poem

"It's really about the human condition of human loss -- loss of a loved one, dealing with loss. The great human question for all ages is what is this death thing about. ... For me, the raven doesn't really exist. It's a metaphor. It's in the protagonist's mind. It's this study of human emotion and how dealing with loss, sometimes we have beautiful memories, sometimes we're very sad, sometimes we get very angry. ... We often share many different emotions at once. To me, art has the chance to look for the grey, between the black and white [of human emotions]."

On how he adapted the poem's language to make it work for a chorus

"My first thought was, 'I cannot mess around with Poe's language.' It's so fantastic, and it's so musical in itself. So I left the poem intact. Adapting it for the full chorus, I've tried, with the various voice parts, to find ways so that the melodic content and the harmonic content reflect the emotional content of the music. I've also used quite a bit of sound effects. ... The whole [poem] has this rather mysterious feel to it. So I've created sounds of wind in the chorus, [which the singers] produce with their voices. And then there are eight members of the chorus that are isolated with microphones right in their faces. We take their wind sounds and do some digital distortion and echo effects."


Hill says he often turns to Poe's essay, "The Philosophy of Composition," when working on a new project. Click the audio below to listen to Hill talking about what Poe's essay addresses and why it's been a huge influence throughout his life and career.