A music producer who has worked on some of Disney’s most successful films was awarded a doctorate in film musicology from the University of South Wales this week.
Chicago native Andy Hill has supervised the music on classics such as The little Mermaid, The beauty and the Beast and The Lion Kingas well as animated hits, including happy feet and James and the giant peach.
Now, at the age of 70, Andy can celebrate receiving his doctorate by portfolio – almost two years after completing his studies – by attending his graduation ceremony at ICC Wales in Newport.
After studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts at New York University – now known as the Tisch School of the Arts – Andy followed in the footsteps of household names such as Freedmen director Martin Scorsese, alongside Joel Silver, who directed lethal weapon and the die hard films, and Amy Heckerling, director of clueless, Look who’s talking and many more.
While at NYU, he discovered he had a knack for writing music for film and would perform his songs at Greenwich Village music clubs made famous by performances by Bob Dylan.
After playing for years in rock bands in the 1970s and 1980s, Andy decided to use his degree and joined Columbia College Chicago’s film program as a production manager.
“I was at Columbia for about four years, and it was basically a launch pad for me to finally get into Hollywood, where I wanted to be,” he said.
“Then, in 1986, I made my first reconnaissance trip to Hollywood – which, by the way, is nothing extraordinary! I was expecting something more like Miami beach, with palm trees and people in bikinis, but it’s actually just a small part of Los Angeles; an active desert town. It’s more of a state of mind. »
Nevertheless, Andy was determined and persistent and sent over 100 typed letters to the music departments of various movie studios, trying to convince them to give him a job as a songwriter.
During one of his three-day trips from Chicago to Los Angeles, he was invited to meet the head of music at Disney. By then, in the late 1980s, the company was hoping to turn things around after recruiting two enthusiastic young executives from Paramount Pictures. This meeting resulted in a job offer and he traveled to Chicago with stars in his eyes.
After the promised job evaporated due to a corporate shakeup, Andy worked for a commercial post-production company in Los Angeles and moved his family from Chicago, while keeping in touch with Disney in the hope of an opening.
“Finally, I got a call one day and was made music production manager,” he said.
After accepting the job, Andy met Alan Menken – who would later become the Oscar-winning composer known for countless hit songs for film and theater – and was assigned to oversee his work on Disney’s next project, The little Mermaid.
“The day I met Alan Menken was the day my life changed forever. Alan was a great songwriter, but had never really composed film music before, so Disney was worried they might take a big chance with him,” Andy said.
“I took him into the recording studio and we recorded a few pieces of orchestral music, called cues – the music you hear during action scenes, tension, romance, etc.
“After the successful first take, I turned to him and said, ‘I think you’re going to win an Oscar.’ wrote rock ‘n’ roll scores that were cool, but they didn’t move people, and Alan’s music was moving.
“When he won the Oscar for The Little Mermaid, he thanked his wife and his mother and all those people, and then he concluded by saying, ‘and above all, I want to thank one of the best musical supervisors with whom I never worked – Andy Hill.’ This moment made my career.
Andy then worked with Alan on Aladdin and later on Beauty and the Beast, which was recorded with award-winning lyricist Howard Ashman at RCA Studios in New York. Howard was secretly battling AIDS at the time and didn’t tell anyone until he was too frail to attend recording sessions.
“We had become close friends, and after recording the title song for Beauty and the Beast, with Angela Lansbury playing Mrs. Potts, Howard turned to me and said, ‘Angela Lansbury recorded my song .Now I can die.’, Andy said.
“It’s a conversation I’ll never forget, and it still makes me emotional to think about it. Howard died shortly after, just months before the film was released.
The next movie Andy worked on was The Lion Kingwhen he met composer Hans Zimmer, who had just won his second sci-fi film Oscar dune.
Disney had drafted Elton John to write some of the movie’s biggest songs, including circle of life and Can you feel the love tonight, but the creative team felt that the early recordings lacked an authentic African sound. So, inspired by one of Hans’ earlier projects – the film’s soundtrack power of one, set in South Africa – he persuaded the producers that Zimmer was the man and, and eventually, at Hans’s insistence, that the vocals had to be recorded in Africa. And so they were, by South African choral singers, and all with lions and giraffes wandering in the background.
“This music couldn’t have been faked in an American recording studio, and I’m still thrilled that we were able to capture the magical sound that is now so synonymous with the film,” Andy said.
‘Gift from heaven’
Soon after, Andy started his own business, producing music for various films, including Elmo in Grouchland, which earned him a Grammy Award for Best Music for Children. He then left Los Angeles and returned to Columbia College, where he established the Master of Fine Arts program in Music Composition for the Screen – the first of its kind in the United States.
In 2012 he and his family moved to Spain to run a new program for Berklee College of Music in Valencia, before moving to Belgium and writing his first book, an in-depth study of historical film scores titled Marking the screen: the secret language of film music, which is widely used in university degrees as a fixed text. Along the way, Andy has written four novels and a fifth is about to be published.
It was in 2019 when Andy moved to Sofia, Bulgaria to take up his role as Dean of the Film Scoring Academy of Europe that he decided to pursue a PhD. It was recommended that you apply to USW to study a Ph.D. by Portfolio, which provides the opportunity to use existing or past projects and associated results, forming a critical overview that brings them together into a cohesive story.
“I suddenly had to write in a way that I had never done before,” Andy said. “Fortunately, my supervisor, Professor Paul Carr, was very patient with me and the PhD turned out to be a godsend as an academic degree. I am now able to use my experience in the industry to make a difference for young aspiring film composers.
“I’m so glad I chose the University of South Wales.”
Andy completed his studies online and was due to graduate in 2020, just weeks after the Covid-19 pandemic. Now he hopes to continue his close relationship with USW by offering guest lectures and working on collaborative projects with the music and sound department.
“Even though I’m now in my seventh decade on earth, I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said. “A person should never be defined by their age. It’s what you bring to the party that really matters.
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