I love writing about the “stuff you don’t think about” when it comes to life as a musician – the travelling woes with an instrument, the extra hours musicians put in over the holidays, or what it’s like to be stopped at airport security because your saxophone neck looks like a weapon on the x-ray. I wanted to investigate something a little different: those who aren’t full-fledged classical musicians, but studied it enough to reap the benefits in other aspects of lives.
One reason I chose this topic is very basic: “studying classical music is good for you” and while that’s a given, I wanted to personalize why. The other reason was to sort out my own personal experience with studying music to a certain level (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music and Bachelor of Music), which sometimes conflicted with my knowledge I didn’t want to be a performer. This de-motivated me sometimes, and it wasn’t clear back then what the point was – if music is to be performed, why am I working so hard at performance? I didn’t realize the advantages until much later.
Now, I know that music taught me everything: how to analyze and assess; how to memorize; how to perform in the sense of being “on” when it matters; how to concentrate for a three-hour written exams years before I had to write them in high school; how to be disciplined; how to collaborate with others; how to be in the present; and how to express myself. I owe everything to my music studies.
In this ongoing series, I’ll be speaking with doctors, lawyers, marketing professionals, accountants, actors, arts administrators, and people in all kinds of fields who studied classical music and are thankful they did. I’ll keep this going until I run out of participants.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did. Let’s get to know Leonard Gilbert, tax lawyer.
Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I was called to the Ontario Bar in 2016, and I currently work as a lawyer for law firm specializing in taxation.
What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
A: I studied piano and violin during most of my childhood, but stopped violin lessons prior to high school to focus on piano.
Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
I can’t speak for my 6-year old self, but I don’t think I had either the idea of a hobby or a performing career in mind when I started lessons(!). The intent (my mother’s, when she started me with lessons) was simply that it would be something that I could enjoy – this might include the lessons being in pursuit of a hobby, a performing career, or (as I am now), something in between the two.
Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
While I no longer have a regular weekly lesson, I still do take lessons from time to time. I would hesitate to say that I’ve “quit” music lessons, because I think music is a life-long learning process and as long as I continue to play and perform I will also continue to seek advice from others and learn to better improve myself. That said, I think the point where a student no longer has a regular “weekly” lesson is a turning point in their development as a musician, because it provides them greater freedom to pursue projects that may not have otherwise fit into the scheduled routine that a regular lesson may impose. For myself, this turning point was neither a welcome relief, nor a heart-wrenching moment of reckoning, but instead a realization that it was time to take more responsibility and initiative over my own learning.
This point came for me when I went to Indiana University for my undergrad studies in music, majoring in piano performance – I was accustomed while in high school to have weekly lessons, and suddenly my lessons at university were no longer scheduled by the week (or at all), but simply by when my professor happened to be in town because of his busy performing schedule. I might have 3 lessons in 3 days, and then no lessons for the next 6 weeks – this gave me a lot of time to prepare repertoire independently, and, when viewed in a positive light, it was a good experience to set my own “curriculum” and goals, and to explore my own musical ideas.
How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
The study of music can definitely help one exercise or develop a number of skills that have direct application in the work force; I have certainly found this to be true for myself. A few examples come to mind –
(i) an attention to detail – a musical score, especially as one progresses to more challenging repertoire, is littered with information that might not be obvious on a superficial reading. So the first step in interpreting music requires that we understand and appreciate everything written in the score, if even only at a literal level;
(ii) recognizing, and understanding complex issues – once we have a grasp of the printed page, then comes the skill of understanding the complex structures in music – for piano there is the sonata, fugues, concerti, ballades, scherzos, mazurkas, waltzes, variations, the list goes on and on; it’s not as simple as a “melody” and an “accompaniment” when the musician has to successfully recognize, interpret, and balance dynamics, articulation, style, sound production, phrasing, musical form, harmonic progression etc.;
(iii) communication and performance under pressure – after successfully completing the first two elements, the musician still needs not only to be able to perform it under pressure for an audience, but also to effectively communicate all of that content in it a convincing way that retains and engages the listener’s interest.
These examples are not so different, (at least in my practice as a lawyer) from
(i) understanding the words in a complicated piece of legislation like the Income Tax Act;
(ii) going beyond the superficial or literal meaning of the words to fully appreciate the nuances of interpretation and how different parts of legislation may interact and apply to a complex set of facts in a case; and
(iii) being able to express complicated arguments in a straightforward and convincing way, whether it be on a papered submission, or orally in front of a judge. Obviously, realizing these benefits from musical studies comes from a long period of commitment and practice, and it might not be so apparent when first learning an instrument. That said, I think to some degree, everyone can benefit from exercising these skills (and more) through musical studies, and I know it has certainly made a positive impact on me.
Is classical or music in general (playing, listening, attending concerts, getting your kids to practise) a part of your life today? If not, do you think you’ll return to it?
Most definitely. I still perform solo concerts regularly- more recently, I also performed and organized a joint solo and chamber concert for a sold-out crowd at Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Telus Center for the Performing Arts, which marked the birth of the Kandinsky Collective, an inter-disciplinary group of musicians who, like myself, share a separate professional career. I continue my involvement in OpenScore, a University of Toronto club I founded while in law school, and has, since 2013, hosted regular monthly concerts; earlier in March, I adjudicated for the Markham Music Festival, and most recently, I performed a solo concert and conducted a masterclass in Hong Kong. My next performance is coming up!
Music at St. Andrews, noon-time concerts
Friday May 25, 2018, 12pm
Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy
73 Simcoe St, Toronto, ON M5J 1W9
(St. Andrew subway stop), Toronto
Here’s Leonard performing the Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brillante, 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland.
Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?