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The Benefits of Studying Classical Music: Photographer Shayne Gray

The Benefits of Studying Classical Music: Photographer Shayne Gray featured image

Both of these “musical Matrix” men on the dock are Shayne! 

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, let’s meet Shayne Gray, Creative & Commercial Photographer/Videographer. He probably gets his name misspelled more than anyone I know. I first met Shayne some years ago, when he saw some photos of classical musicians I’d styled float by on his Facebook newsfeed. He contacted me about the possibility of collaborating. I had one look at his website, flipped out, and immediately promised the next chance I got, I’d work with him. I also like the fact he has a classical music background as well; I knew he’d relate well to many of the musicians that I’d be styling. We’ve created some fun and creative images over the years and continue to collaborate.

Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I do promo material for companies, small businesses, entrepreneurs and creatives in the city. Generally, people who have something new to promote come to me and we figure out how to make something unique to get it noticed. Sometimes that’s a TV studio with a new host they want to promote or a new show they want to make posters for. Sometimes it’s a creative, with some kind of a show from puppeteers to musicians and other entertainers. An important summary of duties however should also include the fact that most of the job involves meetings, writing invoices, answering email, cutting video footage together and retouching photos. I always joke that about 10% of the job is actually pushing the button on my camera, but it’s 100% true! It’s not always sexy, but that’s the job (and I still love it).

What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
My parents were always musical and still are so it was always around when I was a kid. I played guitar since the time I was relatively small and took my first formal lessons with my father, which included some of the basics of rock, blues, funk, R&B, etc; pentatonic minor scales, 12-bar blues variations and so on. I eventually branched out to jazz and classical in an arts high school (Mayfield) and then went to do my Bachelor and Master’s degrees at the University of British Columbia before moving to Europe to do two more degrees in Cologne.

Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
In some capacity I always thought I would do something with music professionally. It shifted a little when I thought I wanted to stay in the academic system to become a professor, but to teach at a university would have meant another degree likely in the States to formally get a Doctorate even though I had already done the equivalent in Europe.

Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
It was a slow process and therefore relatively painless. Also it was a shift from one creative discipline to another. Photography was always on the sidelines and I had played around with it since high school, but started to learn more once I came to Toronto, although I never expected to make any money with it and was doing a lot of music at the time – independent film scoring, touring with an opera company, and playing with various groups around the city. Eventually people started to ask how much I would charge for specific photography jobs after I started posting funny experiments online. I discovered that I was making more money showing up with a camera in my hand rather than a guitar and unexpectedly a whole business grew out of just taking photos somehow, which expanded to making video content after a while. That left less and less time for music, but it has never truly left me….

How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
Classical in particular has impacted a lot of the way I approach a lot of things. Learning how to practice was huge as a way to learn anything faster and more efficiently. When you study classical of course there’s lots of music that isn’t technically challenging, but at some point you come to pieces that are on the brink of possibility with two human hands, so the process of learning to master really difficult movements and execute them consistently has been applied to so many things since. As far as photography goes, I always say that I’ve been able to apply the concepts of form, colour, contrast, composition, tone, from music, albeit in a very abstract way, but those concepts have forced me to think about how to use them in very different ways, visually, having come from a musical background.

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?
I go through various phases of what I’m listening to, but often come back to classical. Also I still go to classical concerts of course once in a while and directed a classical guitar orchestra not all that long ago when I was on the board of The Guitar Society of Toronto. I’m not sure I’ll return specifically to playing classical, but still keep up other things. I just don’t have the time to maintain the level I was at before and it takes real dedication and several hours of practice every day. I could just do it for fun and I fully realize others do, but it doesn’t make sense to me to practice a little just to maintain a lesser level than I had before. That said of course I’m still always in awe to see extraordinary musicianship and I collaborate with a lot of musicians in my work now, so that gives me some sense of balance and keeps me happy and I definitely “understand” musicians … if that’s possible!

I love collaborating with others to create something unique, so I would encourage anyone interested to get in touch. I’m also on Instagram and Facebook.

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

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