By the time she was eight years old, Hilary Murray had a pretty good idea of what she wanted to do, and she knew it would involve music.

She and her two siblings were taking piano lessons in their Smithfield home, but for Hilary that wasn't enough. She wanted a violin. As her dad, Mark Murray, tells the story, Hilary had her heart set on a beautiful - and expensive - instrument, one that Mark and her mom, Naomi Stamm, couldn't afford at the time. So Mark, a competitive trap shooter, went to a pawn shop and traded "an old 10-gauge shotgun" for a serviceable violin.

"We all took piano, but I was the only one who would stick with it and practice," Hilary recalls. "My parents were very supportive. A little girl learning violin has to be about the most nerve-wracking thing you can listen to."

It wasn't long before the investments of time and money paid off, as Hilary spent most of her 20s touring the country with different bands. After briefly attending Dixie State College on a music scholarship (and dropping out because "I got sick of people telling me how to play") she started performing in informal venues, such as campfires, and something about that unleashed her creativity.

"I had never thought outside the box before that," Hilary says.

She joined a heavy metal band, then started doing open-mic performances, then joined a bluegrass band. At some point she caught a performance by Theresa Andersson, a folk/indie pop artist who uses a loop - a device that repeats a sample, either of voice or instrument - that allows a musician to layer their performance. Hilary saw a chance to become her own frontwoman and bought a loop, which she says is "like learning a separate instrument."

After practicing for over a year, she decided she was ready to debut, but it wasn't easy: "That first show I don't think I took a breath," she recalls.

Eventually she got the hang of it, and for performances now she hauls her guitar, violin, cello, mandolin, two separate loop stations, delay pedal, phaser, volume pedal, box switch, tuner and octaver. She may be a solo performer, but she can't pack light. Her musical tastes are as varied as her equipment - "I play a little of everything but polka" - and on a recent evening at Caffe Ibis she covered songs by Bob Marley, Death Cab for Cutie and Passion Pit.

Hilary, who resists being pigeon-holed into a single genre, also writes a lot of her own songs, and says she is "constantly finding inspiration."

With her new, one-woman-band style, a given song might start with Hilary beat-boxing into the mic until she finds a rhythm she likes, and catching that on a loop. Then she might catch a riff from the guitar on the other loop, and once those two loops are coordinated, she'll pick up the violin and start singing. Many times she'll even harmonize with herself, adjusting volume dials with her toes (she performs barefoot) while clutching a guitar in her right hand and her violin and bow in her left.

Any one of those talents would be impressive, but add them together and it's nothing short of amazing.

"Hilary is just so unique in her style," says Holly Conger, who coordinates performances for Caffe Ibis. "The way she uses layers of music to create this big sound, you can't just walk away, you have to stop and listen."

Looping is gradually catching on around the country, Hilary says, and she has developed a following in the Logan area even though "this is pretty new to Cache Valley for sure. A lot of people don't understand what I'm doing, but Cache Valley has really embraced me."

Although music is no longer her primary source of income, her CD keeps selling out locally, and Hilary still tours - this week and next she'll be playing in Colorado - in addition to working as a barrista at the Ibis. She also teaches snowboarding at Beaver Mountain and recently got engaged to Nick Kiely, so she'd like to settle down and stay close to home. She practices her music 10 hours a week, "always trying to grow and learn more and improve," she says, and she's come to enjoy life without a band. "I can play the songs I want and not play the songs I don't like," Hilary says, adding that she doesn't miss the complications and drama of organizing rehearsals and performances for a group with different personalities and agendas. "I have a lot more freedom in what I do, which is awesome."

The violin is still her favorite instrument - her original violin long since having been replaced by a custom-made instrument - although she has come to "really love the cello," and she's resigned to buying other instruments in the future.

"I think I'm always going to stay in the poor house because I'm always finding new stuff I like," she says with a chuckle.

She particularly enjoys entertaining children, who are fascinated by her equipment and the lively nature of her shows. Although she doesn't rely on her music to make a living anymore, it's definitely a lifestyle, one she doesn't plan to give up soon.

"I keep on getting positive reinforcement," she says, "so I'll keep going until that stops, and then I'll reconsider."

Catch Hilary on March 11 and 12 at Fredrico's Pizza or on March 25 at Caffe Ibis.. For more information, call Hilary at 720-329-7067 or go to http://www.reverbnation.com/hilarilly. To learn more about events at Caffe Ibis, which pays performers to put on free weekly shows, call Holly Conger at 753-4777.

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lfrazier@hjnews.com

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