Most people familiar with the Central Florida nightlife know that Magda Hiller is as much of a landmark on the local music scene as the Main Street Pier is on the World’s Most Famous Beach.
Hiller, 51, has received a bounty of state and national awards and recognition during her 30-plus years as a singer guitarist. Noted for her percussive acoustic guitar style and poetic, soul-baring lyrics, she’s been the opening act for Bob Dylan, Chic Corea, Huey Lewis and the News and veritable A-list of other rock, blues, jazz and country music legends. She’s performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall and at Canada’s world-famous Ottawa Folk Festival, and has released three CDs of her own music. Hiller also has been named best acoustic performer and best solo act numerous times by multiple Florida news publications.
And on May 15, she will add another credential to her bounty of accolades – a GED she earned from Daytona State College’s School of Adult Education.
“I’m not an academic, never was one,” she said. “When I was young, I could sit in a classroom and not get anything out of it, with the exception of languages, music and art.”
Hiller grew up in England, and recalled a day when, as a 10 year old, she was attending class and came to a realization. “I remember distinctly that the words coming out of the teacher’s mouth were going in my ear and coming out of my head just as quickly,” she said. “I simply wasn’t able to focus or retain any of the information.”
Years later, she would be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, which didn’t help her confidence or desire to pursue an education.
At 15 and living in London, she quit school and followed her heart toward a life in music. But she was too shy to perform on her own. Over the next few years, she went from working in the cloakroom at the Marquee Club in London to being a receptionist at Dick James Music (a record label that featured the likes of Elton John and John Mayall, to name a few). In her spare time, she would hone her guitar skills and song writing. “I made my way through life,” she said. “Don’t ask me how. I did all kinds of jobs just to get by, and I loved it.”
Just shy of her 21st birthday, Hiller made her way to Florida, settling first in Miami’s Coconut Grove, working during the day and breaking into the local music scene at night as a solo performer. The years that followed were both bliss and torment – the rewards of working with talented artists, the trials of touring - what she called the typical life for most artists struggling to get to the next level in the music business.
Today, Hiller lives with her husband, Jerry Wilson, and nine-year-old daughter in DeLand, where she continues to perform on a regular basis. She credits Jerry, a facilities maintenance and operations supervisor at Stetson University, for encouraging her to get back into the classroom and earn her GED. “He’s been dogging me for years about it, but I was too terrified,” she said. “Now, I love it.”
She also expressed gratitute to Bruce Henry, an adult education math instructor at Daytona State, for giving her the confidence she needed to pass her GED exam. “He said I was much farther ahead of where I believed I was academically,” she said. “He worked with me and really helped me to not only understand the work, but also my capabilities.”
Hiller acknowledged that she was lucky to have made it through life as she did without completing her high school education. “I think I can be a great example for so many of the people who went through the program, because, yes, I did it, I made out okay,” she said. “But the reality is that for most of it, I was in the right place at the right time. Not everybody is going to be that fortunate.”
She plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing at Stetson after receiving her GED at the May 15 Daytona State Adult Education Commencement. Stetson is literally walking distance from her home, and because her husband is employed there, tuition will not be an issue.
“But at Daytona State, those are my people. I love the diversity of the student body,” she said. “I love how the faculty and staff helped me work through my fear and lack of self-confidence. They will always be close to my heart.”