Hilts new conductor for Orillia Concert Band

Mary Girard, Submitted

James Hilts has taken over as conductor for the Orillia Concert Band. SUBMITTED

James Hilts has taken over as conductor for the Orillia Concert Band. SUBMITTED

Orillia, please allow me to introduce our new conductor – James Hilts.

Hilts assumed the baton at the end of last season when our previous conductor, Roy Menagh, retired. It was an easy transition for the group as he was already a familiar face within our ranks.

Born in Belleville and raised in Peterborough, Hilts is well ingrained in the life of a smaller city. Music has always been a part of the Hilts family; both his mom and dad are musicians. Like it or not, he had to learn to play piano, and to sing.

One summer, when he was perhaps 12, Hilts was watching a parade go by. In it was a Sea Cadets marching band. That was a powerful image for him – he now wanted to play in that marching band. How to do this? Trombone was his first choice as that looked like such a cool instrument to play. Alas, there was no trombone teacher in Peterborough. The default instrument was the clarinet. He quickly learned the basics, and into that marching band he went.

His teenage years were full ones at St. Peter’s High School in Peterborough. The lure of music continued as he participated in both the concert band (clarinet) and jazz band (tenor saxophone). He continued with the Sea Cadets, working with them during the summer, marching as well as taking part in other aspects of that program. He eventually became a civilian officer. It was while in that marching band that Hilts realized teaching music was something he enjoyed. The process of developing a band’s sound from the first stages of rehearsing through to a beautiful finished product was “pretty awesome.”

In 2000, Hilts headed off for university – first at York, followed by the University of Ottawa. It was there that he met his wife, Jocelyne. Being in similar programs, their paths often crossed. They soon marched down the aisle, and moved to central Ontario to begin their teaching careers. His journey began in Richmond Hill, then to Aurora, and he has recently marked his fifth year in Orillia. The couple chose Orillia “for a better quality of life and the vibrant cultural community.” They now reside in Marchmont with their three children – ages seven, five, and 13 months.

Hilts’s day job is as music director at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School. He loves his job. It’s “the challenge of keeping the program rolling on the great wave it was when I assumed the job.”

His school bands annually attend the National Music Fest. Last year, the jazz band came home with a silver medal, while the concert band returned with a gold.

Being a true musician, Hilts enjoys “a potpourri” of music styles – Pink Floyd, Benny Goodman, the light classics, the indie scene. He believes his enjoyment is related to the time and what is happening on any given day, the season, energy, as well as keeping up with the students’ current favourites.

So, why would this already busy young man want to take on the Orillia Concert Band’s collection of seasoned amateurs?

Just that – the band is a potpourri of talents, from the high-school students who have potential to take their music to greater heights, to those who haven’t played in the 20-plus years since high school, to retired music teachers who just love playing. The Orillia Concert Band is a fun way musicians can come together and make beautiful sound. Hilts loves the ambience, the interaction and the tact required to motivate and guide the various generations of musicians. His quirky good nature and positive attitude fit nicely with our style.

Check out our concert schedule on Facebook or

Mary Girard plays French horn for the Orillia Concert Band. 

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