Adolphus Hailstork considers a lesson from an Albany High School orchestra conductor the most impressive piece of teaching he had in his early life.
“When I got to high school, I started composing,” Hailstork said. “And the orchestra teacher said, ‘If you write it, we’ll play it.’ It was wonderful. I had the chance to write for our orchestra.”
That experience helped Hailstork continue on his path toward composition — a path that led him to decades of success, being commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony among others, becoming a professor of music theory and composition at Old Dominion University in 2000 and, as of recently, hearing his work performed during one of the United States’ most important ceremonies.
On Wednesday, another celebratory moment was added to the esteemed composer’s ever-growing list of accolades when his composition, “Fanfare on Amazing Grace,” was performed by the United States Marine Band during President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration ceremony.
“You couldn’t hear it because the talking heads were talking over it,” Hailstork said. “I heard the last two chords. But it’s always a good feeling and a high honor.”
The 1959 Albany High School graduate first found out that the band would perform his work roughly three weeks ago. The historic performance marked the second time that a contemporary African American composer’s music has been selected to be part of the repertoire performed at a Presidential Inauguration.
“All I could do was wait with my fingers crossed,” Hailstork said. “It’s a high honor for any composer. There are so many thousands of composers in the United States. For any one piece to be selected, especially for transcription, so that it could be played by the finest band in the land, ‘The President’s Own,’ it’s an honor.”
Growing up in Albany, Hailstork spent time in the Choir of Men and Boys at the Albany Cathedral of all Saints, where he also studied pipe organ. At AHS, he learned under orchestra conductor Gertrude Howarth and choir directors Marie Frankie and Frank B. Bailey.
While Hailstork didn’t say there were any direct connections between the lessons he learned at AHS and how he taught his students at Old Dominion for 20 years before retiring Jan. 1, he still shared some words of wisdom for young Capital Region natives looking to create their own compositions.
“Learn your craft,” Hailstork said. “Just don’t slop around in the garage. Really learn your craft. To be effective in classical music, you better have a solid craft.”