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, which sometimes conflicted with my knowledge I didn’t want to be a performer. 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 we’re chatting with Tal Hebdon, Senior Operations Manager, Audience & Donor Services with the National Ballet of Canada. I met Tal around 18 years ago when I was working at a performing arts organization, and she was working at a recording label. Her greatest gift to me, apart from her ability to crack me up, was a couple of copies of Yo-Yo Ma’s recording of “The Cello Suites: Inspired by Bach”. One I played often, and still do from time to time. The other was the perfect height to angle the fan on the shelf above my desk for maximum breeze effect.
Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I oversee the ticketing operations at the Ballet, from staffing to logistics.
What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
I studied Piano from ages 6 to 12, then trombone from 12 to 16 (ish?).
Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
Always a hobby, however I went to a high school with a performing arts program and once had to convince the program administrator that I wasn’t officially in the program (I played in every musical group the school had: stage band, orchestra, wind ensemble and pit orchestra for the school musical). I was really into music!
Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
I’d say it was neither, more of a natural evolution. I was organically moving from performing into administration; I was in charge of the fundraising campaign when our High School orchestra was going to England. Eventually I had to let something go and since I already knew I wasn’t going to be a performer it made sense to stop the lessons. It was however my trombone teacher who directed me towards the Arts Administration program at U of T so I’m glad I stayed in private lessons as long as I did.
How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
In a very practical sense studying piano for so long taught me how to build up hand-eye coordination and trust my fingers. My typing is excellent – fast and accurate and I don’t look at them when I type! In a more theoretical sense piano taught me how two seemingly incongruous lines can weave together to make something whole, and the whole it’s far more meaningful than the two separate parts. Applying that to “a real job” has translated to trusting that sometimes the blending of ideas often results in one stronger idea. Learning how to practice taught me the importance of discipline and routine; it’s about taking it one step at a time, a new piece never sounds good immediately, it needs persistence and patience and good old-fashioned elbow grease (literally and figuratively) before it sounds good.
Ooh, I like that. Patience is key … skills take time to develop. 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?
Yes, absolutely. I get to work at an organization that is blessed with an outstanding orchestra. In addition I’m married to a classical musician so there is always music in our home and our daughters study piano. Music is, and will always be, a huge part of our lives and our family.
It’s a bonus that you’re exposed to classical music through your work, yes?
It is! I’m really excited about a mixed program coming up in November called The Dream & Being and Nothingness.
Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?