By Jamie Olson ’21
The ever-evolving Hill School is a different experience for each class. It makes sense, then, that the Hill in 1986 would be practically unrecognizable to today’s students. When Margie Neiswender, director of instrumental music, arrived in 1986, she had numerous obstacles to face. At the time, female teachers were unheard of here if they were not related to a fellow faculty member at Hill. With this in mind, in addition to her task of leading the music program, Neiswender was charged with breaking ground in more ways than one.
Upon arrival, she helped put together an orchestra and jazz ensemble that was previously non-existent. Originally, the Hill’s music program was run through what is currently Marcela Gaitan’s house behind Dutch Village; it was just one room, and musicians would be assigned each corner as a “practice room.”
“The bathroom was actually the most sought after practice space!” Neiswender said.
The jazz band was so small that it couldn’t be taken as an elective course, and those interested would come to practice after school – just like a club would meet in our current schedule. While the original group consisted of just three members, it soon grew into the sizable program it is today.
Neiswender was also a part of the planning team for the current Center for the Arts. The purpose of the CFTA was to create spaces for the orchestra, jazz band, and musical theatre group, which Neiswender also contributed to by conducting the instrumentalists in the pit which unfortunately no longer exists due to water damage. Neiswender brought the orchestra and jazz band on music trips around the country and even internationally. Until the tragic events in September 2001, she would take the music program to places like Disney World to share the Hill School’s music with people across the country.
“One year we took a trip to the Bahamas, but the best for me will always be when I booked us a gig to play on a cruise ship in the Caribbean!” Neiswender said. “That was amazing but just not possible in today’s climate.”
Neiswender also coached varsity boys tennis for 11 years making her the first female coach in Hill School history. She taught at Hill for 12 years before it went co-ed in 1998, which she says has “helped strengthen the Hill community, make the applying class more competitive, and improve the overall value and prestige of a Hill School diploma.”
Through all of her experiences in her time at Hill, Neiswender has done just about everything you can do at a boarding school. A groundbreaking faculty member, few teachers can say they share the same wisdom and insight as Neiswender.