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Studio home to Hicks teacher

March 20, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Quick as eighth notes, Rob Hovermale's fingertips flit across an electronic keyboard.

His hands hover but he looks straight ahead, as if unaware of playing the pattern. Notes appear on a computer screen in front of the musician, lining up on a staff as the score scrolls by.

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He stops, clicks the mouse, leaves the ivories untouched. Again the tune trickles.

"With all the technological advances, it's so easy," Hovermale says.

For the band director of E. Russell Hicks Middle School, music is basic as breath and almost as necessary. The 36-year-old Hagerstown native performs frequently in Spectrum, a local Top 40 group.

He is also a songwriter and composer. He has recorded two compact discs and recently took third place in the instrumental category of the Unisong International Song Contest for his work, "Urban Combat."

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He arranged the song in his basement studio, a combination of computers and keyboard that makes writing music easier. But Hovermale first became a musician with a low-tech tool, the piano.

At the age of 12, he walked across the block to his aunt's house to plink out notes on the boxy, wooden gadget. He taught himself to play and learned to weave melodies together.

In his senior year at North Hagerstown High School, the jazz band there performed one of his compositions. Avidly interested in percussion, he also played drums throughout high school. In college he continued with marimba and vibraphone.

Hovermale graduated with a bachelor's degree from Towson State University in 1987 and taught for three years in Baltimore private schools.

He came to Hicks in 1990, married two years later and moved into a house built on the site of his old school, North Potomac. "This was my homeroom, basically," he said.

Inspiration struck all the time. "It's everywhere," he said. "An idea jumps into your head when you're driving in a car." He soon collected hundreds of songs recorded on a four-track mixer.

He returned to Towson for a master's degree with a concentration in composing, studying under Theldon Myers.

He got new gadgets, such as his drum machine, 12-channel mixer, compact disc writer and Roland VS 1600, a 16-track digital mixer. Computer software helped him arrange tunes and experiment. Eventually, he had a complete home studio.

Hovermale recorded his first compact disc, a mixture of vocal and instrumental works called "The Very Edge," in 1996. A year later, he recorded a collection of instrumentals, "Far From Insanity."

Both are available on the Internet at: www.mp3.com/robhovermale. Technology helped him expand as a musician. He got feedback from industry professionals and several of his works were published in music libraries.

Although he loves to perform, Hovermale decided to focus on composition instead. "I feel more focused now. When you're younger, everything is like this," he said, spreading his arms wide in the air.

He won an honorable mention in the 16th annual Mid-Atlantic Song Contest for "Contemplation." Last year, he took ninth place in the Unisong competition's open category for "Gag Rag." But the recent third place was a peak success.

He loads an electronic file for "Urban Combat" onto his computer. The sound waves form green-and-black stalactites and stalagmites on his screen. The track has a tight, quick rhythm and the electronic melodies imitate the many instruments of an orchestra.

Hovermale and his wife, Suzanne, became parents 20 months ago and dote on their daughter, Bailey. Hovermale balances his time between school and family, but he still loves to compose.

He is now working on 15 different projects. "Usually late at night, between 2 and 3 (a.m.), I do a lot of writing," he said. "I'd spend 24 hours a day on it if I could. It's so much fun."

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