The Words of the Hill Family

An interview of operatic tenor Matthew Hill

March 2014

Mr. Hill sang three songs at the Foundation Day Banquet, in front of True Mother other True Family members and many members of the South Korean National Assembly.

Matthew Hill sang in front of audiences that included True Mother twice during Foundation Day 2014 celebrations. He is a second-generation member that is still finding his way internally.

Question: Could you tell me something about your family, parents and siblings?

My dad is David Hill. My mom's name is Kathy; her maiden name is Corrigan. I have three siblings. I am number three. There's Jennifer who's about to turn thirty and my older brother Justin, who's about to turn twenty-seven. I'm going to turn twenty-four in couple of months -- six months, three months, five months -- I don't know, some months -- and my little brother is twenty-one.

We're a motley crew. The kids are all musical. My parents are not musical at all. They had us listening to Simon and Garfunkel' and the Beatles when we were young; that's probably good, but they don't play any instruments. My dad was in choir in high school but aside from that, they are not very musical. My dad says he can play the radio.

Question: What drew you to music?

My parents wanted us to all play instruments. We didn't have the usual piano lessons like everybody else. My oldest sister played the violin for a little while, but then she had a weird music teacher and she dropped it. She sang in high school. She thought about going to college for it but didn't want to do it as a profession. My older brother plays the bass. My mom wanted him to play guitar but he wanted to play the bass. My mom was like, "Why do you want to play the bass?" I guess that's his anti-conformist side. Everyone plays guitar; nobody plays the bass. The bass is cool.

My parents bought me a trumpet -- a trumpet, not a strumpet. That would have been really bad. They bought me a trumpet when I was in third grade. Third grade? Fourth grade. I don't know -- one of those grades. I guess that's where I started with music.

I remember a particular day when I was in the middle school choir. We sounded terrible. We sounded like a bad middle school choir, because everyone was just whisper-singing to themselves, not wanting to be heard by others, in fear that they would be embarrassed if the person next to them heard them sing -- God forbid!

I was either in sixth or seventh grade and I had this realization that if I just sing loud, or if everyone were to sing loud, we would sound way better. So I remember that I sang really loudly this one time when the choir teacher asked us to sing something. And the guy next to me was like, "Matt's singing too loudly!" The teacher said, "Matt's singing at an appropriate volume. Maybe if everyone else sang a little louder, we would have a choir that sounds okay."

After that (I don't want to say it was because I did it...) but people were not as afraid to be heard, and we sounded way better than we had.

I guess that was a pretty big defining moment in my music life. And then in middle school I did musicals. I really loved being onstage. I loved performing. In high school, I was in every music ensemble I could be in. I was in everything -- jazz band, symphonic band, orchestra, men's chorus, concert chorus, the Magical Singers, I even joined an indoor drum line for some reason, I don't even know why. I can't play the drums.

Question: Were you still playing the trumpet?

No. In high school, I switched. I wasn't very good at the trumpet. In order to play the trumpet you have to have really good lips, and then I had braces. It was painful even without braces. I don't know if you've ever played a brass instrument....

Question: No.

The mouthpiece on a trumpet is very small. My band teacher switched me to playing the baritone or the euphonium? The mouthpiece is bigger. It's so much more comfortable to play. You do not feel as if your head is about to explode the whole time you're playing, and that's kind of how I felt when I was playing the trumpet. I don't think I was ever great at the trumpet, so I switched to the euphonium. But the euphonium... "What is the euphonium?" People would say to me, I don't even know what that instrument is. I really enjoyed singing.

Question: Opera seems an odd choice for a young person.

Yeah, doesn't it. If someone had said ten years ago, "Matt in ten years, you are going to be very interested in opera," I would have said, "Well, that sounds very strange. I doubt that."

I think it is a different art form than most people experience today. It is something that can be accessible if it is presented in the right way. Because for a long time, opera was just about the singing, just about sounding good. Wagner had this idea that opera was the highest art form that could be because it involved the theater, it involved drama, it involved music, it could have dancing, it could have lighting... It was this total art that involved, like, everything. I think it can be accessible; it just depends on in which way it is presented, because for a long time, opera was like... People just stood onstage. I don't know if you've heard this expression, "park and bark." They get up there; they stand and they bark at you, and then they leave. That's why everyone thinks, opera singers -- they are just these big, fat people. They can't move around; all they can do is stand and sing. Even if a person were to go see an opera at the Metropolitan Opera today, they wouldn't be fifty huge fat people standing onstage singing at each another. I think there is an element that hasn't really come into opera yet of performing and the importance being in the drama, but I think it is a beautiful art form and there are a lot of... but then again there is a lot of boring opera.

That's true; there is stuff that is like... And then you also have to remember when opera was written. It was written hundreds of years ago for people who didn't have YouTube, people who didn't have radios or TVs. Going to see something that is three and a half hours or four hours long was really cool and for a long time it was the only entertainment you got. There were books but you couldn't see people doing something. That's another thing to think about, but I think opera is really cool and it can be really beautiful. It can be a great art form but I think sometimes... I mean, it's good that it is taken seriously, but sometimes it takes itself a little too seriously.

I don't know how to reform opera to make it the most accessible thing in the world, but there am many strides being made in that direction, going on currently and that will happen in the future. I think there is a lot of good that can come out of it.

Question: I'm not saying there needs to be, but was there a religious aspect to your desire to sing here?

The Unification Church will forever be part of my life and identity. It's not something I want to erase or anything like that. I feel like there are many things in the teachings and theology and doctrine that I don't necessarily agree with or understand. I feel that I have some friends that are in the church that have not done enough soul searching. I mean even things that I will ask them about... Okay, here's an example: I remember that I was talking to some guy whom I'm friends with, whose name I will not mention, about how I was going to this Christian group. I was just telling him that Christians believe in the deity of Christ. And he was like, "That's so stupid. Why would anyone ever believe that Jesus was God?"

I was so angry with him. I was just furious. I was like, "If you have ever read any scripture or have ever spent any time around Christians and actually tried to listen to them, and tried to listen to what they believe and if you take into consideration that the Unification Church is technically Christian or a branch of Christianity, you'd better understand why they say that." He was sort of chastising me for kind of being on their side, but there are lots of things about Christianity that I am hesitant about and many things that I think are not thoroughly consistent about Christianity in the same way that I have doubts about Unification Church. I mean, just for someone to make that blanket statement toward me while I have been trying and searching and questing, as if he knew everything, made me so angry.

The Unification Church... Yeah, I was honored to be asked to sing here. My parents have been in this church for forty years and I was brought up in the church.

The community is something that I cherish. I have so many friends in the church. I don't think it's something I want to get rid of or cast off. If people were to ask me if I am in the Unification Church, I don't even know what I'd say. I'd probably say, Ahhh, yes-ish. I don't know if that's the answer you're looking for or the answer you want.

Question: Well, it's real.

I feel as if I've really tried to seek and quest and read and study and waited for God to answer me and not gotten a whole lot of answers. I've always found it hard to believe when people say, "This is the way it is. I know"

I mean, how can you know? Did God tell you? Did he sit down with you over a cup of coffee and say, "Well, you see, David... You see, John... This is the way it's supposed to be because I'm God and that's right."

Someone in the last interview asked me if I had been to Chung Pyung. I told him, "Yeah, I was here ten years ago when I was fourteen." But even then, I had lots of questions. I thought it didn't make much sense to me, but I really put forth my whole effort and heart and did everything with all my heart. I went to all the anus and did bowing conditions and then I was just waiting for God to answer me. When the forty days was over and I had put forth this effort, I felt as confused as before.... Oh, I guess I'm not going to get an answer. I guess that's how life is. It's not like I can tell God, God, hey! You've got to answer me or else. Faith, living a life of faith, is a struggle and it's something I'm still pursuing. I certainly don't have all the answers; nor do I think I ever will.

Question: Are you blessed?

Well, the short answer is no.

Growing up you hear, absolute love, absolute faith, absolute obedience and I know it doesn't encompass the actual heart of it, but when you hear that so much, over and over again...

No one wants to disappoint their parents. No one wakes up in the morning and says, "You know what I want to do today? I really want to piss off mom and dad. I really want to make them unhappy and mad at me." To make a long answer longer, I don't want to disappoint my parents, but I also will not get blessed just because that is what they want me to do. That would be a terrible choice because ultimately, I am the person who has to marry, live, and have a family with that other person, not my parents. I still have so many doubts, concerns, and questions that I wouldn't want to join myself eternally to another person eternally in a faith that I am so unsure of.

Question: Let's talk about your opera career.

My opera career. My music career. I'm interested in many different types of music. Even if you look at my music resume, it's a hodge-podge of musical theater, oratorio and a couple of roles in opera, a couple of musical theater roles and some awards I won a long time ago in school.

There are a lot of different things I would like to do. I would like to do a lot of musical theater stuff because it's very accessible, it's easy for people to get. It's not like some high art that you don't understand if you don't pick up on the motifs or something in the music. It's something where you just go and you watch and you feel it or it makes you laugh or whatever. It makes you cry. I mean, not to say that it can't happen with opera but...

I think musical theater would be great because I think it's really accessible. I also really like Bach and oratorio and sacred music. I just think it's beautiful and cool.

Cool not in the sense of pop music cool but it's a very intricate and beautiful art. Singing Bach or singing Steven Sondheim or singing Mozart opera, they are all appealing to me. I don't know what I want to do yet, but I should focus on something. That would probably help. As opposed to right now, I'm like, Oh, I'll do whatever. Some people say, "You should stay broad. In that way, you'll be hired to do a lot of different things." Some people are like, "You should focus so that you can get hired for only one thing and do it very well." I don't know, but if people pay me to sing, that would be great.

Question: How is your voice categorized?

I am a tenor. It depends, but in classifying male voice there is bass, bass-baritone, baritone and tenor. Or you could just say there is a bass, a baritone and a tenor. Bass is the lowest. Then there is baritone, which is sort of in-between, and tenor, which is the highest. Some men also sing counter-tenor, which means they sing in a falsetto. Falsetto is....

Question: Female-ish

Yeah. So, sometimes men will sing counter-tenor. I don't want to say it's rare, but it is less usual. Those are the male classifications of voice.

Question: You seem to have a wide range.

It's an okay range.

Question: Could you tell me the warmest experience you've had in the church?

Yeah, I was on Next Generation Academy for a year. Yeah, that's church. The guy who's in charge, his name is Jeff Adshead. His favorite expression is: "It's not about the thing; it's all about the heart." He says it doesn't really matter where you are in your life or what you are doing. What's really important is the heart that you do something with. He always gave us the example of washing dishes. If somebody asks if you can wash the dishes and you're like, "Argh this sucks. I have to wash the dishes. It's the worst thing. Why do I always have to do things for other people? This is terrible."

It's not really important if you wash the dishes. It's how you do it. He says that applies to everything in your life. The way you do anything is the way you do everything. He's just a really smart guy.

He just set this environment that was so open, so warm. You could ask any question. You could just be yourself. Uncle Jeff really tried not so say, "You're wrong. I'm right. We're going to do it my way because that's the way it is."

He would always try to listen. He would always try to understand. He would really do his best to make you feel understood and make you feel as though it wasn't wrong that you were asking the questions you were asking or it wasn't wrong that you were feeling what you were feeling. I remember telling Uncle Jeff that I had a crush on this girl. And he was like, "Okay. Yeah. That happens. That's part of life." I just thought, "Yeah. I guess you're right. It does happen."

He never was forceful, like "Oh, that's wrong. You shouldn't do that." He usually tried to have you learn things by having you come up with the answer. I don't know what form of teaching that is. It was liking having the students teach themselves or drawing the answer from out of the student. He was very good about that. Even when he gave lectures, he would ask questions to make sure you understood or he asked questions to see what you thought. So it wasn't like -- "I know; and you're going to learn what I know."

I really enjoyed that. It just created an environment where people could be honest, where people could be open and people could be themselves. It was the sort of environment where I felt like I could just let myself be loved and I could love the people around me with all my heart. It was a beautiful experience.

Question: Poets used to speak about afflatus, mystical experiences through poetry. Do you get that with music?

Yeah, but it doesn't always happen. I mean music for me is something I do all the time, like every day. Poets may have had their muse when they would make love and then sit down and write their poems or something. A lot of times music is like -- I have to do this, I have to follow this, I have to read these notes. It can get mechanical but there are some times when the music is just so profoundly beautiful. I recently started singing at the Washington National Cathedral. We are performing this piece, the Requiem Tomas Luis de Victoria, the Victoria Requiem, and just to be in that space -- when you sing a note it just echoes for so long, the life of a note goes on way after you have stopped sounding the note. The piece was written to be performed in a place like that. I remember performing it and thinking, "Oh, my gosh, this is just so beautiful. It is just so amazing to just be part of making this music." There were some points where... I was on tour with a choir when I was in college. We were singing pieces by the composer Francis Poulenc, Lenten motets; there are four motets "for a time of penitence," I think the translation is. This was about the same time I started investigating the Bible. I had been involved with a Christian group. I think it was the first time I was starting to get Jesus in my life or (I don't know) starting to understand more, a lot more, about Jesus. I remember singing these pieces about the crucifixion, about how Jesus died or how... Even the crowds screaming for Barabbas.

The text was in French but I had translated the text and I just remember when we performed it that it just weighed on me. I could really feel it. Music isn't just about making you feel joyful or making you feel good. It can do so much more; it totally can change your state. Music has the power to move you to a different place. Nobody needs to tell you that this music is sad. You just hear it and you know. No one has to tell you that this music is happy. You just hear it and you know. I think that is something beautiful and profound about music and it is something that is so international and transcendent. It doesn't necessarily need to be explained. It can just be and people understand. They get it. Whatever that something is. That power, I think is really beautiful. That power is beautiful and that power is cool.

Question: You sang in Italian and Korean. Do you know either language?

I studied Italian a little. I don't know Korean, so I had someone coach me and tell me what all the words meant. I tried to sound as if I knew a little bit. Knowing how to speak the words was important because I didn't want to just go up there and sound horrible. Especially, because I would be singing in these people's native tongue, though I don't know the language.

Question: How long does take?

I think it depends on the person and how well you want to do it. For someone that has never done anything before with French and is working from English, I think it might be much more difficult to go from English to French than from English to Italian because in Italian there are only seven vowel sounds. I don't know off the top of my head how many vowel sounds there are in French but there are definitely more than seven. In French there are all the vowels sounds and then there are nasal vowel sounds. I think it depends on the language. You have to put in time and effort. I thought, "I guess I'll just pray that this Korean goes decently well." Some things seemed so minute to a nonnative speaker. There is this... (I don't remember the whole phrase). There is this word ___ the English transcription is "meol," but you wouldn't say mail; you wouldn't say may-all. I remember asking the person that was helping me and she said ___. She had the Korean in front of her and she was just like ___. Even the difference between "p" and "b." I would ask, wait was that a "p" or a "b?" She said something like "pbe." That was both a "p" and a "b" and neither "p" nor a "b". And she was like, yeah "pbe."

Question: How long did you spend on singing the one Korean song?

Just on working on the language? I don't know... I guess I got it a couple of weeks ago. Maybe like an hour or so, maybe not an hour, every day. It wasn't like every day I would walk around with the lyrics and practice singing it. But I was listening to a recording of the girl helping me say it I would listen to it was I walked around.... I don't know, maybe ten or fifteen hours.

Question: Did you listen to it as a song?

Yeah, I listened to it as a song and as the spoken word. It's always better if you know the language. In college I sang a lot of German music and I studied German. There are so many nuances to language. You can only know from experience. The more experience you have with the language, the more you understand the nuances and can express yourself like a native speaker. It takes work. It takes effort. It takes time. 

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