Margaret Hillis: Unsung Pioneer, Frazes Hill
Author: Cheryl Frazes Hill
Format: Hardcover, 584 pages
Publisher: GIA Publications, Inc. (2022)
Conductor, chorus director, airplane pilot, educator, activist, mentor and advocate Margaret Hillis blazed a trail upon which many continue to tread. The first woman to regularly conduct a major symphony orchestra, she was the founder of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and served for 37 years as its first director, winning nine Grammy® Awards.
She was also a flight instructor for the United States Navy during World War II, an influential member of the National Endowment for the Arts and built a reputation for her meticulous score preparation and innovative methods of refining choruses into superb ensembles. She earned the respect of the world’s major conductors along with the admiration and affection of many musicians, colleagues and music lovers.
But as compelling as what Margaret Hillis achieved is how she deftly circumvented constant barriers in a field where women were not welcome. Further complicating her career aspirations, Hillis was a lesbian woman in an era when such an identity certainly would have ended her career.
In Margaret Hillis: Unsung Pioneer, author Cheryl Frazes Hill — a longtime colleague and associate — examines how Hillis was able to overcome the many challenges she faced, navigating a career in ways relatable not only to musicians but to women in all professions.
Margaret Hillis’ story is one of resilience, determination and passion for music. Her journey is an inspiration; a portrait of what it takes to succeed at the highest level in any field.
About Cheryl Frazes Hill:
Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill is chorus director of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and associate director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Beginning as a member of the CSC in 1976, Frazes Hill was appointed to the conducting staff in 1987 by Margaret Hillis. She has prepared the Chorus for Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Michael Tilson Thomas and James Conlon among others. Her chorus preparations are included on CSO archival releases, including Chicago Symphony Chorus: A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration.
Frazes Hill has served as a professor of music at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts since 2002. She holds a master's of music degree and a doctorate in conducting from Northwestern University and two undergraduate music degrees from the University of Illinois. Frazes Hill is a frequent guest conductor, speaker and clinician, leading festivals and concerts throughout the country. She is a published writer for national education and choral journals on topics of her research in music education and choral conducting.