Though the humble, friendly, and compassionate Patty Hill would never admit it, she is a valuable leader in her home community of Dunsmuir, an asset, one of those quiet folk who go about life making the kinds of ripples that better the travails of the day-to-day for everyone.
In an era of downsizing, ‘stay-cations,’ ‘Think Global/Act Local,’ and a renewed interest in our homeplaces and the lives of our communities, Hill more than does her share to bring joy to the lives around her with an unusual and historic tool: her harp.
Known to many as The Village Harpist, Hill can be heard playing her treasured ‘queen’ harp at any and all events she is called upon to accent with her lovely music. She is a staple at the Dunsmuir Growers’ Market in the summer months, plays at the Dunsmuir library, and will play again the afternoon of  Sunday, Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. at the Dunsmuir Community Building in a concert titled ‘Patricia Hill and Friends’ as part of the annual Candles in the Canyon celebration.
Hill is a fourth generation Dunsmuirian. Her father was a railroad brakeman, and her grandfather was a conductor. Her musical career began in the canyon town, and took her across the United States, and back again.
Hill’s musical training started at the age of four in a round-about way; she cribbed notes as her older brother studied the piano. By the time she turned five, her mother had noticed her talent and Hill’s formal piano training began. Eventually she would study at the prestigious San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Truly nothing could stand in the way of Hill’s love for music over the years; a marriage at the age of 15 followed by the birth of four children – three sons, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and a daughter, Mary – saw Hill make sacrifices and set a discipline that underscored her life’s passion.
“In church there was a family with ‘stepping stone’ children, four boys, all tow-headed blonds,” Hill said with a laugh Wednesday outside the Brown Trout Café. “I announced when I was four years old that I was going to have four boys. I came close.”
Raising children and pursuing her art forced Hill and her CPA husband, Del, to define a rigorous schedule that allowed her to raise her family and study music at the same time. She lived in San Francisco in those years, and of the system she enacted, she explained, “We had it where he would come home from work, and the kids would all be fed and in their jammies, and I would walk out the door and go to school.”
Four nights a week, Hill studied music at both San Francisco State and the Conservatory. She gained entrance to the selective Conservatory by playing a Rachmaninoff variation on a theme of Paganini. “My husband was supportive of my music, and the children were very supportive,” Hill continued. “We had an agreement that they went to their room everyday for one hour so I could practice. The only way they were allowed to interrupt me was if there was a fire. They tell stories of playing in their room while listening to my music.”
At the age of 38, Hill came to one of those crossroads in an artist’s life that are both unexpected and necessary: though she’d spent her adult life sitting at a piano, she suddenly realized that it wasn’t really the piano at all that was her true calling, but the harp. “It just dawned on me that I was writing music for the harp,” Hill described of her musical epiphany. “The piano is a little harsher, the harp is gentler. I took some lessons... rented a harp. I knew music, knew music theory, knew the fundamentals. I just had to learn the techniques of the harp. I just started playing and it came very easy.”
Hill found herself and her newly discovered passion for the harp in upstate New York in 1980, having followed an opportunity to play in a professional band. Within a couple years, she relocated to Manhattan, living in Hell’s Kitchen, playing the harp in studios and teaching in the NYC school system. Of that time, Hill said, “You can get a lot of work done in New York City. There was a lot of teaching work, and the pay was good.”
With a Big Apple stint under her belt, Hill returned to the West Coast where she ‘really started performing.’ Having landed on her feet in yet another band, Hill played venues in San Francisco, Marin County, and all over the San Francisco Bay Area.
But Dunsmuir called to her, the town of her ancestors, the place that her heartstrings called home. Five years ago, she completed her odyssey and came back. Of her return after many years away, Hill said Tuesday, “It was a major change and it’s been really good. I feel like a part of this town. I have relatives in the cemetery. It’s the only place that’s felt like home to me.”
Aside from cementing her place in the pantheon of those visible folks who give Dunsmuir its identity, Hill continues to teach, and will soon release a new CD titled “Willing Spirit,” all of whose tracks she composed but a couple featuring traditional Celtic and Jewish music.
“Music can bring us all together on many planes, helping us harmonize and balance,” Hill has previously written of her artistic philosophy. “And on deeper levels of connection, music can heal us and raise our awareness of ourselves and therefore the world around us. Believing in the possibility of clear and positive feeling, seeing, and hearing.”
Sunday’s concert will showcase her again in her favorite place, behind her harp, her eyes closed as though in rapture, as she plays her music for her beloved community. Joined on stage by friends including David Filipello, Tim Holt and Sandra Hood, Hill’s concert will benefit the work of the Dunsmuir Garden Club. Tickets are $9 and refreshments will be served during the intermission. For more information about Hill and her work, contact the artist at thevillageharpist@snowcrest.net