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The Benefits of Studying Classical Music: Max Roll, Actor

The Benefits of Studying Classical Music: Max Roll, Actor featured image

Max as Orsino, in RBL Theatre’s “Twelfth Night”. Photo: Ian Legge


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 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 chat with actor Max Roll, whose role in “2 Pianos 4 Hands” (in which he portrays a concert pianist and has to play some difficult repertoire) has a very direct correlation between his piano studies and his onstage career.

Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I pretend to be other people, and sometimes people hire me to do that in front of an audience. Occasionally, they pay me to do this, which is very exciting.

What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
I studied Piano from the age of about five and Clarinet from the age of twelve or thirteen. I am still very much a student of both. I also sing!

Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
I was destined to be a musician. Both my parents are international concert pianists, and for many years I appeared to heading for a career as a Clarinettist.

Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?

How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
I was extremely lucky, in that my chosen career resulted in only a sort of lateral jump from my previous studies. My abilities as an instrumentalist continue to give me an edge in my career as an actor.

Is classical or music in general (playing, listening, attending concerts, getting your kids to practice) a part of your life today? If not, do you think you’ll return to it?
Music has been such an integral part of my life for so long, I fail to see how I could escape from it even if I wanted to! When I was younger, Classical music was the be all and end all of everything and I was raised on a diet of many of the greats in their respective fields—Perlman, Lipatti, Dieskau and countless others. Since then, I’ve branched out into jazz, pop, rock and most recently, country, thanks to my wife—gotta love some Johnny Cash and Jason Aldean! I can’t imagine my life without music.

Anything cool coming up?
I’ll be appearing in 2 Pianos 4 Hands at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, May 24th-June 16th.

Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?
[email protected]

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