I love writing about the “stuff you don’t think about” when it comes to life as a musician, but in this ongoing series, 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.
In this ongoing series, posted every week or so, 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. Today, let’s get to know Mark Ainley, Contemporary Feng Shui Consultant and Piano Recording Historian.
Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
My primary employment involves the arrangement of home, office, and commercial spaces to create natural harmony and balance. I help my clients bring life to their homes and workspaces by using an updated and practical approach to the ancient Chinese practice of Feng Shui. In the musical world, my activities involve writing articles and CD booklet notes, as well as lecturing and blogging about historical piano recordings.
What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
I played piano from the age of 9 until about 22, and in high school I played flute in band from age 13 to 16.
Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
I always loved music and had a sense that I wanted to do something with it but wasn’t sure if a performing career was for me – but I wasn’t really aware of many other options. By the time I discovered historical recordings, I realized that I would never be able to do what the amazing pianists in those recordings could accomplish (it was a bit late and I wasn’t willing to practice that much), so I gave up any hopes of ever playing professionally.
Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
It was a little bit of both. I loved studying music – more as time went on – though not exactly the performance aspect. I did enjoy the lessons and playing, though I wish I knew then what I know now so I could have practiced more efficiently and with more conscious listening.
How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
There are so many ways it’s helped. Playing in high school band helped understand the importance of working with others, even if your part isn’t the main one. Learning to listen consciously to both musical structure and aspects of individual performance opened me up to listening to how people communicate and also to the differences of perspective that an individual can bring to their experience and expression. I think that my sense of balance and harmony in music helped prepare my brain for being able to recognize the same qualities in the physical world, in my Feng Shui work, and to cultivate an aesthetic sense of beauty.
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?
It’s a huge part of my life. On my Facebook page (The Piano Files with Mark Ainley) I post a piano recording every day of the year, along with a description that gives some information about the artist and the performance, and there is often lively discussion about interpretation that takes place on the page, which is lots of fun to engage in. I listen to music when I’m not doing work that requires undivided creative attention (like writing) and whenever I drive. I can’t imagine my life without listening to music.
Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?