Hill and Kao on the steps of University Hall

Class of 2020 Success Stories: BGSU experience is music to Gretchen Hill's ears

Hansen Fellowship provides countless experiences, connections for double music major

By Julie Carle

When Gretchen Hill chose to attend Bowling Green State University on a recommendation by her clarinet teacher, she couldn’t fathom the experiences she would encounter.

During her four and a half years at BGSU, she traveled abroad; attended a monthlong chamber music festival; connected with musicians, educators and alumni; commissioned a musical composition for her instrument-of-choice, clarinet; and developed lifelong friendships.

The December 2020 College of Musical Arts graduate from Swartz Creek, Michigan, came to campus to study music performance and music education. Why pick one when both performing and teaching are her passions, she said.

“On one hand, I really love playing the clarinet and performing, and I wanted to really devote a lot of time to that,” Hill said. “On the other hand, education has always been a passion of mine too. As the oldest child in the family, I would force my siblings to play school with me, and I would always be the teacher.”

Hill and Kao perform 

Music was important in her family, where her father was a middle and high school music teacher. Thus, she came to the clarinet - or the clarinet came to her - when she was in grade school. She chose clarinet, in part, because she could use the instrument her mother had played for many years, but in hindsight, it was a perfect choice.

“I ‘found’ band when I was in middle school,” Hill said. “I ended up really loving it and I had a passion for the clarinet and for band.”

Throughout middle school and high school, she pursued music with focus and determination.

She was equally motivated when she continued her education at BGSU.

The same focus propelled her into the double major at BGSU, where she was also selected to be a Hansen Fellow.

“The Hansen Fellowship is an extraordinary fellowship for two extraordinary freshmen,” said Dr. William Mathis, dean of the College of Musical Arts.

The annual award was established by Dr. DuWayne and Dorothy Hansen ’62, ‘66, longtime friends of the college, as a way to help students stand out from their peers in a competitive job market. The fellowship allows students to pursue a summer experience during their first year, a master class or lessons their second year, commissioning a project their third year and a recording or special performance opportunity their final year.

Hill took advantage each year of the opportunities.

“Every single experience that I gained was like a keystone for who I am as a performer today," she said. "I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the activities without the Hansen Fellowship.”

Hill and Kao 2 

The most memorable was in January 2019, when she and Ling-Na Kao, her best friend and a Hansen Fellow from the same class, presented a concert in Taiwan, Kao’s home country.

“We created a performance tour and facilitated everything from reserving the concert hall and getting the plane tickets to deciding the program and promoting the recital,” Hill said. “It was an incredible experience and an important trip for me to meet her family and find out about her life and experiences.”

In addition to becoming best friends with Kao through the Hansen Fellowship, she got to know the Hansens, other faculty members, mentors, professionals and alumni in the field.

“The Hansens were so supportive of everything. Dottie Hansen was always checking in with us on Facebook, asking how we were doing and what we were up to,” Hill said. “I value them greatly for their dedication to the arts and the students.”

“Gretchen has been a stellar student and Hansen Fellow,” Mathis said. “She has been an all-around excellent student and ambassador for BGSU and the CMA.”

Her BGSU experience also included an exceptional learning opportunity with her clarinet professor Kevin Schempf. “From the beginning, I knew he was going to be someone that I could learn a lot from.”

Hill plans to pursue a master’s degree in music performance in the fall.

“Because I studied both music performance and education as an undergrad, I would like to have two years to really devote to my instrument,” she said. 

After graduate school, she hopes to teach music at the middle school level.

“Students at that age are going through a big transition, and I think they need teachers that are understanding and compassionate and willing to work with them,” she said.

“It’s important to me to help students develop really strong fundamentals on their instruments,” she said. “That’s my favorite part of the music education process, and I hope I can inspire students in the way I was inspired.”

Media Contact | Michael Bratton | mbratto@bgsu.edu | 419-372-6349