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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Meet Abby Hill: The Pride of Arizona drum major hoping to make a difference

Rebecca Noble
Junior Abby Hill leads the Pride of Arizona down the UA Mall during the 2015 Homecoming Parade.

Not only can Abby translate words into an exquisite gesture for those who are deaf and partially deaf, but she also takes music notes off the pages and directs band members with the swift direction of her hands.

Meet Abby Hill, UA drum major for the Pride of Arizona marching band and woman who hopes to help others with the palms of her hands.

Hill is a junior studying special education and rehabilitation with an emphasis in deaf studies. She is fluent in American Sign Language and said she wants to someday be a sign language interpreter.

While Hill hopes to bridge the communication gap between those who are deaf and partially deaf, and those who are not, Hill’s other passion is music. Her extracurricular activity is something she enjoys on the side.

Hill has been the drum major of the Pride of Arizona for two years now. Before that, she marched clarinet her freshman year at the UA. She was also on her high school marching band for four years and served her last two years of high school as drum major for the marching band. As drum major, Hill uses her skills in interpretation to conduct the band in a kind of musical sign language.

Her musical focus started in elementary school. After she chose concert band over yearbook and choir in high school, her marching band career blossomed. Hill decided to play the clarinet, like her mother. Hill first tried her hand as a drum major in her junior year of high school, where she learned the conducting movements central to the job.

“I had to really work at it. I was not very good at making one hand do one thing and one hand do the other, because your right hand will be holding time [while] your left hand will be doing something else. … When first you start out, it’s just hard,” Hill said. “So it’s kind of a muscle memory thing, like learning to play a sport.”

Despite her years as drum major in high school, she didn’t plan on taking the position in college. But things changed toward the end of her freshman year when Hill’s friend signed her up to audition for the position and she decided to go for it.

Over a dozen people auditioned for the spot and, after cuts, only five remained. Hill didn’t think she was going to make it at the time, but she thought she might next year. Then, when the list went up after audition weekend, she saw her name listed for drum major.

“So here I am, this 19-year-old girl, I’ve been in the marching band for one year and I’m drum major,” Hill said. “It was very humbling because I was like ‘Wow, that’s super cool’ and I felt so honored to have the opportunity.”

With this opportunity came new duties and new responsibilities. The drum major does not play an instrument during marching band and instead directs the band from a separate box during performances. The drum major is considered the face of the band, according to Hill, and this responsibility has made Hill more conscious of her actions outside of marching band.

“You really want to make sure that what you’re doing is portraying the band in a great way all of the time, no matter what you’re doing, so it really makes me kind of self-analyze how am I acting and making sure that I’m being a good role model,” Hill said. “It challenges me to be a leader, to step up and take responsibility.”

Self-evaluation is also instrumental in Hill’s other passion: sign language interpretation.

“I have to self-assess,” Hill said. “I think that’s the same with interpreting. We have to continue to self-evaluate and when I am signing, I ask does it make sense, is the person, whoever I’m signing to, do they understand me, … to really make sure we’re self-evaluating and continuing to grow.”

This is not the first time sign language and marching band have intersected in Hill’s life. When she was in high school, there was a deaf classmate in her marching band. That sparked her interest to study sign language.

She took sign language in high school and followed it up with six semesters of sign language classes in college. Most of her classes are now taught in sign language, Hill said.

Because her degree specializes in educational interpreting, Hill plans to interpret for deaf students in high school classrooms. She hopes to bring music and sign language together at some point in her life.

“One day I would want to maybe have a class or do something where I can introduce deaf people to playing music more than just like listening to it, because they can feel it,” Hill said. “But playing it would be interesting, so whether they’re playing percussion pieces or whatever it is, I thought about that.”

As far as the future goes, Hill is looking forward to her eighth year of marching band starting next fall. She plans to audition for drum major for the last time going in to her senior year.

Thinking about graduation, Hill said leaving the band will be the worst part of graduating, but she hopes to incorporate marching band into her future.

“If I work at a school, I’m hoping that whatever school I work at, I can try to get involved with the marching band there or something,” Hill said. “I just definitely want to stay involved somehow. I’m not ready to give it up that quickly.”

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