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From an early age, Hilarie Clark Moore showed an aptitude for music that has become a career and a calling. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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A tag sale when she was five years old made all the difference to Hilarie Clark Moore’s life. At the annual White Elephant Sale of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Hilarie’s parents bought her a trumpet for $25. For another $25 they had it fixed and her career path was set. Today, Hilarie, who lives in Chester, is a musician, music teacher, and orchestra conductor.
“I learned to read music before I learned to read,” she says.
At the moment she conducts two orchestras, the New London Community Orchestra and the Cheshire Symphony Orchestra. In addition, she regularly assembles groups of advanced amateur musicians at her house in Chester for weekends of study leading to a final performance. The group owes its name, Chamber Music by the River, to the location of Hilarie’s riverside house. She leads the group with another professional musician Kathryn Giampetro.
Hillarie has a waiting list of people who would like to attend the program and says participants come not only from Connecticut but from neighboring states as well. She is, in addition, starting one-day groups for musicians who want an experience that focus more on education than final performance.
“The performers are less nervous in the one-day program,” she explains.
Hilarie, who, like her husband Jeffrey, grew up in Old Lyme and graduated from Old Lyme High School, started playing trumpet in kindergarten, piano in 1st grade, violin in 3rd grade, and French horn in 5th grade. By the time she graduated from the University of Connecticut, which she did in three years, her concentration was on French horn. In addition to her conducting work, she now gives private French horn lessons.
She says shyness was one of the reasons she chose to pursue horn rather than violin.
“Violins are too close to the front [in an orchestra]. Horn players are heard but not seen,” she says.
After her undergraduate work, Hilarie went on to Yale for a doctorate in music, concentrating on music theory rather than performance.
For some two decades she taught music theory and history at SUNY Orange, a community College in the New York State System.
It was an opportunity, she reflects, to learn a great deal more about how to teach rather than concentrating on academic research.
“At community college, you have to teach; you have to think of four or five different ways to get all different kinds of students to understand,” she says.
She recalls a student who confessed to her that he had been an alcoholic but had liked her class so much he made a dramatic change when taking the final.
“He told me it was the first test he had taken sober,” she says.
Not that her finals were pushovers. She recalls a retired detective she had in one class who confessed he thought it would be easier to run toward gunshots than to take one of her tests.
Community college is where Hilarie began her career as a conductor. She had only taken one course in conducting when she decided she wanted to broaden her own program by starting an orchestra at SUNY Orange.
“Every year or two I got bored and asked if I could teach another class,” she explains.
The orchestra started with only two musicians. After 20 years, there were more than 50 musicians playing in it. She had actually moved to Chester during her last three years but commuted to New York one day a week to conduct.
“It would have been hard to just quit cold turkey,” she says.
Hilarie credits Ron De Fesi, artistic director of the Hudson Opera Theatre, with helping her perfect her conducting skills. She became assistant conductor at the Hudson Opera Theatre and has guest conducted with the Willimantic Orchestra and the Cortlandt Chamber Orchestra.
According to Hilarie, there is a difference between women who conduct and the far greater number of men who do. She says if a male conductor yells at musicians, it’s accepted if not appreciated. But when a woman does it, she says, the female conductor is liable to be labeled “bitchy.”
Hilarie does not yell. Her approach is to work hard, organize rehearsals well, and encourage musicians so they want to please.
“You have to know your stuff,” she says. “Conducting is all about trust. I have to get the musicians to trust me and I have to trust them to watch me.”
Male conductors usually wear a tuxedo or tails in formal concerts. There is no standard dress for women. Hilarie started wearing a long dress, then went to a tuxedo, but found both hot and constricting. Now she favors black pants and a sparkly top.
Hilarie has another project at the moment besides teaching and conducting. She is writing a musical. The work is not yet completed, so she is somewhat hesitant about giving away details but says it’s based on novel she read when she was a girl of 12. She thought even then she would do something with the story.
“It’s a promise I made to myself 40 years ago,” she says. “Now I am honoring that promise.”
She hopes the musical will be finished next fall. So far, the few people she has shared it with have been positive about the project. When finished, she expects it to run about two hours. At the moment, she says, she is four or five songs from completion.
Hilarie says that having various outlets for her musical career is important. She compares herself to Labrador retriever puppy chasing squirrels.
“The puppy doesn’t have to catch the squirrel, but it loves the chase,” she says. “I can still chase as many squirrels as I can put on the plate and get turned on to a different one every day.”
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