Naomi Blackman as a child studying cello
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. Let’s get to know Naomi Blackman, whose family is musical (her mom Joy teaches piano, her father Dan plays viola in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and her sister Talisa, is a pianist). Naomi is a Senior Manager, Integrated Marketing in the fashion industry (yay, fashion!).
Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I’ve worked in some facet of marketing for my entire career, shifting in discipline from PR to events to social media to brand strategy and now, integrated marketing. Essentially, that just means that I work across many disciplines, which makes sense as the lines of marketing start to blur. In a nutshell, my career requires me to be in tune with changing trends, both long term consumer trends as well as changes to technology and media consumption. Marketing today is a combination of art and creativity and science, data and analytics.
What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
With a mother who teaches piano and a father who plays viola in the TSO, I grew up with music. I started playing piano around 3 years old, taught by my mother, and continued to play throughout my teenage years. Around 10 years old, I picked up the cello, studying with Clare Carberry and playing as one of the youngest members of my school orchestra. In 6th grade, I switched from cello to alto saxophone, inspired by Lisa Simpson. I continued with the saxophone until high school, where I attended Etobicoke School of the Arts and made the shift from musical instruments to voice in their musical theatre program.
Lisa Simpson! Love that. Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
Music lessons were always a hobby for me. My sister Talisa was always the one who saw music as a career. While I had thoughts about a career in performance, it became clear to me as I got older that it wasn’t in the cards!
Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
Both. I loved music, but was more creative than I was disciplined as a child. At the time, I’m sure I was pleased to not have to practice anymore, but looking back, it’s heart-wrenching that music learning can’t continue in the same way through adulthood.
I understand that completely. How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
Music, in particular, classical music, parallels the skills I need to be a great marketer. Music is part art and part science. Knowing and understanding music theory and composition is important, and practicing technique, drills and skills helps to make a more technically proficient performer. But the most magical performers have an indescribable quality – the artistic layer. Marketing is the same. As marketers, we need to understand data more than ever before and be able to analyze past performance and make strong, business recommendations based on research and facts. But we also need to be creative, be daring, be free thinkers. People who are able to combine both strategies – skill and facts – with unrelenting creativity make the best marketers (and perhaps the best musicians!).
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 is! I still attend concerts, primarily those where my sister or father is performing and I’ve started a classical music series with my sister as well. Together, in 2016, we launched #ClassyAF in Toronto, a classical chamber music series that puts on classical music shows in bars where you can enjoy amazing music with a beer and some tacos. Last September, we held shows every Wednesday and Thursday night at two bars, the Dakota Tavern, a well-known basement musical venue at Ossington and Dundas and La Rev, an incredible, musically supportive Mexican restaurant in the Junction. We know the value and importance of classical music and are using #ClassyAF as an outlet to create more classical music concerts in this wonderful city. We’re taking a short hiatus to re-configure it – it was well-received, and we’d like to reach more audiences, so we’re looking at putting on shows in a different timeline than we did in the past.
Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?