Before performing fiddle music in front of a large audience, Hallie Stotler ’14 goes through a mental process in which she reminds herself of why music is so important in the world. She reminds herself that music is a gift and that it has the power to bring people together, inspiring their lives. Stotler’s experiences have reaffirmed that belief. Growing up in a family of artists – her mother is a professional folk singer and her father is a writer – Stotler learned to take risks, pave her own unique path, and pursue what she loves.
A music major with a religion correlate, Stotler is passionate about her love for music. She participates in three choirs on campus: Madrigal Singers, Vassar College Women’s Chorus and the Camerata Ensemble. She served as the Choir Librarian for the Vassar College Women’s Chorus last year, and this year she serves as the Choir Conductor for the Camerata, a student-run ensemble. During her sophomore year, she taught a “mini-course” on Irish fiddle to her peers as part of the VSA programming in the spring. She also immersed herself in other extracurricular activities by serving as a writing tutor, helping to write a Merely Players performance called “Merely Bitches” and participating in a 24-hour theater ensemble on campus.
“Music, for me, is an ever-present part of my life,” she remarked. Stotler’s first introduction to the world of music was through her parents. Growing up, Stotler often traveled with her mother on tours, experiencing historical folk music and understanding the life of a musician. When she was only three years old, Stotler joined her church’s choir, and when she was seven years old she began taking piano lessons. In middle school, she decided to learn how to play the violin, and in high school she took Irish fiddle lessons for several years. “My self-defining moment where I really envisioned myself doing music professionally was when I went to fiddle camp… it was a week of traditional New England fiddle music and country dancing, and I was suddenly around all these people who were just like me or just how I wanted to be. It was a creative and inspiring environment,” she recalled.
During her freshman year, Stotler continued to branch out with her music and take advantage of the musical opportunities that she found at Vassar. “When I arrived at Vassar, I wasn’t sure if I could be a music major or if I wanted to be a music major because it was such a Western classical department, and I thought I was not experienced enough. I didn’t know enough to be a part of that, but as soon as I got here it became clear to me that all I wanted to do all the time was music, and I jumped into it blindly,” she said.
Although Stotler was intent on pursing classical music at Vassar since, like Irish fiddle music, it uses the violin, a physical injury during the end of her freshman year forced her to question her life’s musical direction. “Imagine the one thing you want to be doing all the time gets taken away,” she stated. Unable to play an instrument and needing a musical outlet, Stotler decided to take voice lessons – a decision that helped her to ultimately refocus her future musical goals.
Over the summer, Stotler attended a Baroque opera workshop in Queens, N.Y. She also attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. to study choral conducting for a week. There, she became interested in pursuing choral conducting as a career. “It hit me one day that all of these things that I love and enjoy doing, like bringing people together, making music with others and being a community leader, all came together in choral conducting in an amazing way. It seemed like the perfect thing for me to do. I’ve been working towards that goal ever since,” said Stotler.
After Stotler graduates, she plans on applying for a Fulbright fellowship to study choral conducting in Estonia, a place where the choral tradition thrives. However, Stotler is adamant about never forgetting the place where she first learned to love music. She is interested in becoming a minister in her Episcopal church, while also engaging in her music. “To me, being a choral conductor is just like being a minister, except that it is in a musical context. You get to create a beautiful experience with others through music,” she stated.
Stotler appreciates the many mentors in her life: from her parents and her church’s choir director, to Drew Minter, her voice teacher here at Vassar. In the future, she hopes to share with others what they have all collectively taught her: to pursue a passion courageously and without regret. “I think it takes courage to pursue what you love, and I want more people to have that courage,” she said.