Skip to content


Hillary HerndonViolist Hillary Herndon has earned a national reputation for her brilliant playing, insightful teaching and creative multi-faceted programming. She has been heard on NPR and PBS and has collaborated with some of the world's foremost musicians, including Carol Wincenc, James VanDemark and Itzhak Perlman, who described Hillary as "having it all… a gifted teacher and an excellent musician."

Hillary's passion for integrating music with other interests has led to collaborations with actors, dancers, social workers and sociologists, the first trans-Atlantic master class via Internet2, the use of high-speed video equipment to analyze bow strokes, and performances reaching beyond traditional concert halls to venues such as the Miami City Book Fair and the American Museum of Science and Energy.

Ms. Herndon is dedicated to expanding the available repertoire for the viola through research, performance and advocacy of little known works. Her recitals will often feature composers such as Fernande Decruck, Minna Keal and Sergei Vasilenko alongside the standard viola repertoire of their contemporaries. Herndon's first recording, "La Viola: Music for Viola and Piano by Women Composers of the early 20th Century" has recently been released on MSR Classics.

In addition to her chamber and solo performances, Hillary Herndon has acted as Principal Violist of the New World, Colorado Springs, Eastman and Juilliard Symphony Orchestras under the direction of today's best conductors, including Michael Tilson-Thomas, Seiji Ozawa, Neeme Jarvi, Yuri Temirkanov, James Levine and Sir Norrington. She has participated in international festivals such as Tanglewood, Interlochen, the Heidelberg Scholssfestspiele and the National Repertory Orchestra.

A committed teacher, Ms. Herndon has a thriving studio at the University of Tennessee and has held summer positions the Sewanee Summer Music Festival and the Round Top Festival Institute. In 2013, she will join the faculty at the Montecito Summer Music Festival. She is the founder and director of the Annual UT Viola Celebration, an event that involves hundreds of violists from across North America.  Ms. Herndon is a founding faculty member of the Viola Winter Intensive events with Kathryn Dey, George Taylor, and Juliet White-Smith. Her recent appearances include presentations and master classes at Juilliard, the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, Brazil and the 2012 International Viola Congress. Her teaching articles have been published in the Journals of the American String Teacher Association and the American Viola Society. Ms. Herndon serves as an Executive Board Member for the American Viola Society.

Ms. Herndon received her Masters Degree from the Juilliard School where she studied with Heidi Castleman, Hsin-Yun Huang and Misha Amory while serving as a Teaching Assistant to Ms. Castleman. She also holds a Bachelor's Degree from Eastman, where she studied with George Taylor and graduated with High Honors.

"A sparkling player, clear thinker, caring teacher and a great collaborative artist - that is Hillary Herndon!" - Heidi Castelman

My approach to teaching is a holistic one. I believe in training students not only in technique, but also in how to learn, how to approach the instrument in a healthy way, how to listen, communicate, diagnose, and fix problems. My goal is for students to be self-sufficient by the end of our time together - to have a strong understanding and appreciation of the musical art, to know what is possible, and to know how to work towards achieving those goals. I am a firm and demanding teacher, and yet always supportive. I believe in positive reinforcement while still providing honest feedback.

A key goal for all violists is a full, healthy sound. This sound can only come from a healthy physical approach. This begins with an understanding of how the instrument produces sound and then learning to use the body in a way that is free of excess tension. The physical movements of playing the viola should be natural and without pain. Tendonitis and other physical ailments are common in the music industry, and my teaching educates students on preventative care by learning to use their bodies properly.

Learning how to produce a beautiful sound is a good start, but students must also learn how to perceive sound accurately. This means learning to listen and understand, rather than just hear. I teach students to hone their listening skills, to distinguish between a sound with and without core, to hear the beginning, middle and end of every note, and to learn how to project within a wide range of dynamics. This involves learning to listen to the sound from the back of the hall, rather than the sound that is coming from under the ear. This is a necessity for playing the viola successfully in a variety of performance situations.

Teaching students to listen involves more than perceiving quality and projection. It leads seamlessly into understanding and honing the fundamental techniques of string playing: Intonation, Articulation, and Rhythm. Technique is indispensible, and I strive for my students to have complete mastery over their instrument so that they can achieve their desired goal. I believe that when a student can hear, diagnose and explain a possible solution to another student on technical issues, then they truly understand the concept themselves.

A successful violist needs to not only have a beautiful sound and great technique, but they must also be well versed in the art of music making. Musical aspects such as phrasing, musical styles, color choices, analysis, as well as variations in different roles of performance are focused on in every lesson.

Finally, I believe that music is not a closet art. It is not meant for the practice room, but for presentation and performance. Therefore, students must learn to perform. I work with my students so that they are able to present themselves effectively. I address issues such as performance anxiety and require frequent performances. Students perform regularly for each other in studio class, as well as in regular public viola studio recitals and other off campus venues. I believe that in teaching this way, students learn not only how to be self sufficient, strong and artistic musicians, but that they also learn valuable life skills that allow my students to engage the world around them with confidence and success.

Most musicians agree that the single most important element in a student's education is their teacher.  Hillary Herndon has received accolades from renowned artists:

    "A sparkling player, clear thinker, caring teacher, and a great collaborative artist - that is Hillary Herndon!"
    - Heidi Castleman
    "Hillary has it all…  a gifted teacher and an excellent musician."
    - Itzhak Perlman
     "An extraordinary violist and a natural teacher"
    - Merry Peckham

Student Comments

    "In addition to teaching us how to play the viola, Ms. Herndon teaches us how to be musicians.  We don't just focus on the physical aspects of playing, she is always encouraging us to make music.  She expects that when we get up to play we are producing music first and foremost, not just notes and rhythms printed on the page."
    -Douglas Temples, class of 2016  
    "Studying with Hillary has been the best part of my education as a violist so far. During my auditions for graduate school, I traveled a long way to audition for her, and after only one lesson, I knew that I wanted to move to study with her the next year. My playing has advanced more with her than at any other time in my training. Hillary has an impressive resume- I was pretty nervous to play for her the first time, but I found that she is totally approachable and nice, as great of a person as she is a player.
    One of the advantages of studying with Hillary is that she nurtures us as musicians in both technique and mindset. We do work a lot on technique, but doesn't treat us as scale-playing machines. We do play a lot of scales, arpeggios, bow techniques, etc., but we also work on other parts of musicianship such as fixing stage fright, upgrading practice techniques, improving posture, feeling a center of balance, and visualizing our own sound. She has very high expectations of the entire studio, but she does this without being overbearing or mean. She has an ability to be perfectly direct without breaking a student down.
    I think that the best part of Hillary's teaching is that she takes responsibility for every single student. She focuses in on each student's specific learning style. I really trust her to know what is best for me, individually, as a player. From week to week, she remembers specific 'catch phrases,' and exercises that have worked for me, and my specific needs. She brings back these phrases whenever I need a reminder. In studio class, she alters her teaching style a bit with each student, based on the needs of him or her. She knows when to be positive, encouraging, when to be firm, and whether to use her sound or words to teach. She also thinks way ahead to help students prepare for auditions and recitals. This is really helpful! Most importantly and simply of all, she makes her students play better- every student in our studio is making continuous progress throughout the semesters.
    Hillary's knowledge of orchestral studies and excerpts makes her a uniquely qualified teacher. When I found out that she was Principal in New World Symphony, and that she teaches an excerpts class, I really wanted to study with her. In orchestra excerpts class, I always ask her to play the excerpt through. Her sound is powerful, brilliant, and beautiful. The accuracy with which she plays the excerpts is absolutely impressive! She takes care of every detail in the excerpts we study, and doesn't let a single point pass, which is exactly what we all need to prepare for orchestral auditions.

    Studying with her has been a great experience! I would recommend Hillary Herndon to anyone who is looking to improve as a violist and musician."

    - Jill Way, class of 2011


La Viola:  Music for Viola and Piano by Women Composers of the 20th Century

Available now!


Dr. Seuss and the Art of Interpretation

    Journal of the American Viola Society,  November 2013, Volume 63 #4

Balance Training for Musicians

    American String Teacher Journal, November 2010, Volume 60 #4

Healthy Bow, Healthy Sound

    Journal of the American Viola Society,  Spring 2011, Volume 27 #1

Viola Quartet Database

    Compiled by Dominic DeStefano, Daphne Gerling, Hillary Herndon and Katherine Lewis

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.