If 12-year-old Madeline Hall was told she’d one day be pursuing a career playing classical guitar, the now fourth-year music major says she would have scoffed at the thought.
At that time of her life, Hall was passionate about playing rock, insisting to her mom, “metal’s not a phase.”
Still, when her mother asked, “Will you please play something nice on your guitar for my birthday,” Hall obliged.
She recalls heading to Long and McQuade and buying sheet music for Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. It was the first step on a journey taking her from rock to Bach, and on to Western, where she’s earning a bachelor of music (classical guitar-performance major).
Even though she still finds Bach intimidating, “I was able to teach myself how to play the piece,” said Hall, who started playing piano at age three. “I realized playing classical music on guitar was pretty cool and really fun.”
When she was 15, she began taking classical guitar lessons with Wilma Van Berkel, with whom she still studies today in the Don Wright Faculty of Music.
“I always knew I wanted to play music for a career,” Hall said. “But I thought I could be a concert pianist and play rock and metal on guitar on the side.”
“Piano was always more oriented toward classical, and guitar was more of a fun side thing. I always enjoyed playing guitar more. It became my reward for playing the piano. My mom would tell me when I finished practicing piano, I could go practice guitar.”
Her practice paid off. Throughout her time at Western, she’s achieved a succession of notable accomplishments.
As the winner of the 2022 Kiwanis Music Festival of London Rose Bowl, Hall performed with the London Symphonia in January. She became the first Canadian woman to be a prize winner at the 2022 New England Conservatory Boston international guitar festival and competition, where she became the first-ever recipient of the Eliot Fisk Guitar Academy Prize.
She also performed her own composition, Super Nova, written for guitar, saxophone and percussion, as part of the 2022 Young Artist Series at the Ottawa Guitar Society.
CBC Music’s ‘hot 30 under 30’
Hall’s trajectory continued this past summer, when she was named to CBC Music’s 2023 30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30 list, reserved for those who are “highly skilled, creative, disciplined and determined to make their mark in the world of classical music.”
The honour included an invitation for Hall to play at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse historic site and museum in Toronto, where she performed Joaquin Turina’s Sonata, Op.61.
“Performing at the schoolhouse was incredible,” Hall said. “It was probably the best acoustic place I’ve played in. It was so easy to get a good sound. I’ve never heard my instrument sound that good, and it was really amazing to work with the people from CBC.”
This past summer, Hall also earned the opportunity to meet and learn from her idols.
She first attended two weeks of master classes in Maui, Hawaii, where she learned from Benjamin Verdery, from Yale School of Music.
“I auditioned and applied just for fun,” she said, noting playing Bach with Verdery was “ terrifying and surreal.”
She then went to study in Aspen under Sharon Isbin, chair of the guitar department at the Juilliard School.
“Hearing her play is amazing on its own, but to watch her teach and perform in person was unbelievable,” Hall said.
Now in her final year of her undergraduate degree, Hall will perform as a soloist with the Western University Symphony Orchestra in March, as the second-place performer in the Marista Brookes Concerto Competition.
She’s also composing a piece for guitar and voice, which she’ll play in her graduation recital. She hopes to pursue a master’s in performance at Yale or Julliard after Western.
Hall still makes time to play all types of music – including jazz, with the Western Jazz Ensemble.
“Playing with the ensemble has been one highlight of my time at Western. It takes so much work, but once you get it down, you have so much fun,” she said.
“It’s great to have variety and to have a break from classical. What I recommend to all guitarists is to branch out into other styles. It all seeps together. Music is music. Play everything and you’ll just grow as a whole.”