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 Darren Lee, CPA. Darren I feel like I’ve known all my life; he studied piano with my uncle, theory with my mom, and claims he used to sneak visits to the bathroom to eavesdrop on my practising (in the non-creepy way). Now, he can play pyrotechnics in circles around me – I don’t play actively anymore, but he most certainly still does, as you’ll read below.
Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I’m a chartered professional accountant (CPA) which means I do my fair share personal and corporate income tax preparation for my clients. I also do tax planning – that’s the “fun” side of things where I do research and try to help people and businesses minimize their taxes. And I do general finance and tax consulting work where clients seek my services for specific projects on a short-term basis. Because I like variety, on the weekends and some weekday evenings, I am in front of a classroom teaching accounting and finance professionals to prepare for their certification exams. So it’s a varied and packed schedule but I love all the aspects of what I do professionally.
What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
I only ever studied the piano only. Studies were intensive as a child until the end of high school and then I continued my studies with various teachers whenever I had time afterwards. In the past few years, it has picked up again considerably … perhaps the result of a midlife crisis?
That’s interesting … most people in a midlife crisis get the garage band going, not classical piano! Did this also influence your desire to be a long-distance runner?
Nope. The long distance running started almost ten years ago and I was heavily into it for the first five years or so. Although the running is still a big part of my life, it has taken a slight back seat and the piano has now come back into the picture. I strive to find the “perfect” balance between the running and the piano. The piano definitely demands a lot of time and practice, especially with my repertoire choices and goals.
Did your music studies teach you the discipline to run?
Absolutely! Concepts like rhythm and pacing are vital in both music and running. In music, you’d better choose a tempo at the start that you can maintain for the entire piece. The same goes for running a given distance. Also the idea of planning your piano practice sessions each week also applies to running your required weekly mileage for marathon training. And the mental toughness you need to finish what seems like a bad piano performance is the same for a bad running race.
Photo: Richard Lantz
Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
Music lessons were only ever intended as a hobby. I never ever thought of a performing career … I don’t have the nerves of steel that one needs to sustain a public performing career.
Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
Luckily I can say that I’ve never quit music lessons. It’s been a life-long and fulfilling learning experience.
How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
For me piano lessons reinforced attention to detail, discipline, and persistence. Those are necessary traits for success in almost any profession and have certainly been useful for me. The music theory side of it taught me study and test taking skills as well as the ability to break down and absorb what seemed like an overwhelming amount of (complex) material.
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?
Absolutely! Due to the time demands of my professional career and marathon running pursuits, most of my time spent on music is focused on playing and learning new repertoire. And that includes recent and current challenges like the Rachmaninoff 2nd and 3rd concerti, the Brahms 2nd concerto, and the late Beethoven sonatas. But with any other spare moments remaining, I do my best to listen to and attend as many concerts as possible.
Darren Lee plays the third movement of Bach’s “Italian Concerto”.
Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?