Singer, songwriter, storyteller, all these and often more than one at a time, describe Cathie Hill at any point in her career. After 19 years of teaching music in Summit County — six at the middle school and 13 at the high school — Hill is retiring.
It’s been a long road, but one that Hill looks back upon fondly. As the vocal music director, she taught not only choir classes but also public speaking, guitar, piano and drama.
It was her own high school music teacher who inspired her to follow the educational path.
“My high school choir director was the most amazing person I’ve ever met. He was such an inspiration, such a mentor and many of his students have gone into music professionally,” she said. “We had a very competitive choir program and it was just really high quality and that’s what led me to music education, just wanting to do that for other kids, to pass it on.”
Originally from the Sooner State, Hill attended Oklahoma State University and came away with a degree in vocal music education. She dedicated much of her time in school to her two main passions — singing and acting.
“I have always had this dual love of theater and music, and I love musical theater because it marries the two genres,” she said.
Soon after graduation, Hill moved to Steamboat Springs, where she met her future husband within the first week. Throughout the years that followed she lived in various cities throughout the state, teaching music at elementary schools and performing as a storyteller at schools and libraries.
Hill and her family arrived in Summit County 20 years ago and within a year she had taken the position of music teacher at Summit Middle School. While there she had a hand in school play performances and co-taught a class called Creating Original Musical Theater, which took students through the process of making a musical play from scratch.
Hill made the transition to the high school position during her eldest daughter’s senior year, looking forward to trying out something new.
“The musical had gone away, it had sort of died, so I wanted to bring it back,” Hill said of the former tradition of musical performances at the high school.
In an attempt to shock life back into the idea of a musical, she decided on “Grease.” It worked.
“It was the only show that we actually oversold. It was more than sold out. We had 40 seats in the back, it was crazy,” she said. “Kids came in for the first reading in costume and in character,” she remembered with a laugh. “It was an amazing show.”
From then on, the students performed one musical every year. Hill’s favorites included “Footloose,” “Seussical” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
This fall, the students performed “Annie.”
“It was a great musical for me to end on, because it was really a strong production and with a phenomenal cast,” she said.
Tonight, Hill will direct her last concert performance, the Spring Concert, which showcases the songs that the choirs have been working on all year, both in the classroom and at competitions.
“I’m super proud of both of my choirs this year,” Hill said.
While she’s looking forward to the concert, she does feel a little melancholy to think that it is the last.
“(I’m) a little sad, but I’m also excited. It’s ambivalent,” she said. “I think when you’ve had a career that you’ve loved and done work that you’ve loved and were really passionate about, it’s always a little bittersweet.”
Hill doesn’t have anything really specific planned for her retirement and wants to keep her plans loose for now. She’ll help out with her husband’s construction business, maybe teach a few lessons here and there, maybe do some more storytelling performances. She’s definitely interested in remaining involved in the high school plays.
“I still love it,” she said. “I just love the ‘let’s read a script’ and ‘here are the songs’ and ‘let’s just bring it to life.’ I just love the process of that.”
One thing that is planned is a trip to Europe coming up in the fall. Not only will she get to take in some European opera and revisit places she’s taken students in the past, she hopes it will help keep her mind off of the starting school year.
“That will kind of take the edge off of, ‘Oh my gosh, what are they doing at Summit High School?’” she said with a laugh.
Most of all, Hill hopes to keep in touch with her students, both past and present.
“It’s just been a great honor to work with the amazing students I’ve had,” she said. “I look at these pictures on the wall and I think back. I keep up with some of them, but I love to catch up on Facebook, so they can always look for me.”
The sentiments, of course, go both ways, from students and faculty and the high school.
“She’s been fantastic,” said high school principal Drew Adkins. “We certainly wish her the best in all of her future endeavors and thank her for all that she’s done, not only for Summit High School but the Summit community at large.”