Donald Hill on Sound of Music, the Sistine Chapel and singing

Donald Hill was born and bred in Derry, and received his early education at The Model School.

Donald as the Wazir of Police in a 1997 production of Kismet. Such was Donald's dedication to the role that he shaved his head  for the part!
Donald as the Wazir of Police in a 1997 production of Kismet. Such was Donald's dedication to the role that he shaved his head for the part!

The well-known businessman and singer said: “I then spent six years boarding at Coleraine Academical Institution which unfortunately taught me nothing about the Arts...I had my guitar sent to me to use at a Christmas concert and it was confiscated!”

Donald married Nan Malseed in April 1962 and in July, he answered the call from the late Belinda Storey to help form the Londonderry Light Opera Society, today known as the Londonderry Musical Society, now in its 59th year.

“I treasure the experience and enjoyment of those 59 years and the friends made at home and all around Ireland. The memory of all the directors, now too numerous to name, that I have had the pleasure of working with will remain with me forever.

Donald Hill

“The support of my wife, who received a special award not long before she died, made it all worthwhile and now I have the pleasure of my daughter Christine and her daughters Hannah and Holly following in my footsteps.”

Here, Donald answers our questions:

Q. What is your favourite song and why?

A. Goodness me! How do you choose a favourite song or music of any sort? As your mood changes and age grinds on, so your choices change. I’m going to give you two. My favourite song to sing is ‘Old Man River’ and the one I loved when it was first performed and still do ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’.

Q. What is your favourite film and why?

A. Again, this depends on one’s mood, do I want music, laughter, excitement, drama or just an old fashioned love story? Hard to pass by the Bond movies for sheer escapism, but for good old watchability, I’ve seen it more than any other film, even more than White Christmas, it has to be The Sound of Music. Why? Julie Andrews and the children, especially that moment when their father hears them sing together for the first time. Edelweiss, wasn’t it? Hankies out - I even shed a tear thinking about it!

Q. What is your favourite piece of classical music and why?

A. Handel, Bach, Elgar, Grieg, Beethoven...they all have written great favourites of mine, but I’m going to go for Mozart’s ‘Laudate Dominum’. Beautiful! Overall, Handel is probably my favourite composer as he wrote many pieces that I like to sing and his’ Messiah’ holds one spellbound throughout. Not sure how many times I have either watched or performed in (chorus that is) his wonderful oratorio - it’s an awful lot.

Q. Who is your favourite artist (eg Van Gogh) and why?

A. That’s a hard one. I’m really not into painting and my knowledge is very, very limited. Mind you, I would love to own a masterpiece although I don’t know where I would put it in my house! I remember being in complete awe when my late wife Nan and I visited the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. Michelangelo must have been something else, but for the purpose of my choice it would have to be the ‘Laughing Cavalier’ by Frans Hals, a Dutch painter, because I grew up with him in our family home. Unfortunately, it was just a print.

Q. What is your favourite play and why?

A. I suppose if I go to theatre, it is more likely to be a musical rather than a play although I have seen some good plays. One comes to mind, which Nan and I saw some 40 years ago, ‘Run for your Wife’, starring the late Terry Scott. I think we both laughed at that performance more than any other over the years. That is, until I saw ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’. As scenery collapsed in all directions and errors of performance happened with glorious rapidity, the timing was superb. Don’t make me choose!

Q. What is your favourite musical and why?

A. Aw now, that is difficult. I have to consider both those I have seen and those I have performed in myself. ‘Les Miserables’ was outstanding both for its musical and dramatic content. However, I am going to choose ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, having both seen and enjoyed it on the West End Stage a couple of years ago and performed the part of Tevye on at least four occasions. It covers all the moods of reflection, gloom, humour, suspense and romance along with some wonderful music that evokes all those feelings on stage.

Q. What is your most special moment in the arts and why?

A. I suppose with over 50 years on the amateur stage I should have many special moments but they are not always easy to call to mind. I had some wonderful roles but my most special moment happened almost two years ago playing the part of Arvide Abernathy in Guys & Dolls with the Londonderry Musical Society. Arvide sings ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ to his granddaughter, Sarah Brown played by Ashton Murphy, herself a wonderful singer and actress and winner of a number of awards.

Why was it special? The AIMS (Association of Irish Musical Societies) Adjudicator’s critique included the following remarks: “What for me makes a great voice is that ability for the singer to touch my heart and soul. Thank you for sharing your God given gift with us. That song was a beautiful moment in the show”. At 80 years of age, I was quite chuffed! The fact that my granddaughter Hannah Deane played the part of Adelaide was the sugar on the top of that special moment.

Q. What ‘classic’ just didn’t do it for you?

A. For some reason or other, although I have seen it three times, I have never quite been able to enjoy ‘Evita’. Not sure what it is. It has some very good songs but the whole show just does not do it for me.

Q. What have you been reading/watching/listening to/revisiting during the Coronavirus period?

A. Netflix has certainly received a few visits with the watching of ‘The Crown’. The timing of the fourth series was perfect. I enjoyed ‘Unforgotten’ and am currently watching ‘Bridgerton’. I wasn’t sure about it as it took me a while to get into it. Now I can’t wait for the second series. I have also gone football crazy. Most matches are shown and I pretty well support every team. I now get my newspaper online and that’s good. I can do the Sudoku and crosswords without a pen. Fortunately I was able to fit in plenty of golf apart from the periods of lockdown.