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 Marc Gibbons, Software Engineer, and candidate for Regional Councillor of Scugog in the 2018 Ontario municipal election. He actually worked professionally as a musician, before moving on to other things.
Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I work for software consultancy and specialize in building the services which power websites, mobile apps and hardware. We work with clients from a wide range of industries – advertising, finance, arts, energy and non-for-profits. I particularly enjoy the startup space, with all the chaos that comes with it, but there is no greater reward than making an idea become a real product which people use.
What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
I learned the piano around the age of four and took lessons throughout elementary school. I picked the oboe in high school music class; in part because I had always liked the sound but also because I was guaranteed a solo at every concert — the tuning A (or B-flat in band). Plus, no one else in my class picked it. I went to école secondaire publique De La Salle in Ottawa which has a specialized arts program. I had the opportunity to play in the school orchestra and take weekly private music lessons. My teacher, Angela Casagrande was not only a source of musical inspiration, but also a guiding light through some tumultuous periods of adolescence. Music and sports definitely helped me stay out of trouble in high school.
Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
In short, both. From a young age, I loved the stage and loved to perform, but it wasn’t until my final year of high school that I decided to pursue it as a career. I initially planned on studying computer science and had even been admitted to a few universities. Given that I had skipped grades and was quite young when I graduated high school, I took a victory lap, continued playing oboe and ultimately decided to pursue music instead. Ironically, I have gone full circle and now program professionally! I studied under rigorous tutelage of Ted Baskin at McGill University where I completed both bachelors and masters degrees. I freelanced for several years after moving to Toronto and still actively working in Québec. During this time, I performed with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the National Ballet of Canada, l’Orchestre symphonique de Sherbrooke, the McGill Chamber Orchestra, the Hamilton Philharmonic, the Toronto Philharmonia, played the odd Mirvish show and filled in as principal oboe of the Niagara Symphony Orchestra for a year to name a few. I also taught at Collège Notre-Dame in Montreal and St. Michael’s College in Toronto.
Was quitting your music career a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
Both. Quitting, or retiring as I like to call it, was a difficult decision, but one which I do not regret. I do miss the stage, and the effervescence felt when playing in a group of talented musicians, especially orchestra. I don’t miss living under the line of poverty, the instability of freelancing and taking auditions, nor do I miss waiting six months to get paid for a gig, or the awful commutes. I do miss all the friends and wonderful people I’ve met across the world over the years thanks to music.
How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
Studying music is more than just learning notes or preparing a recital; it is about developing discipline and grit. There are few activities like musical performance that have such a low tolerance for error. Studying music is more about studying how to become excellent — how to refine and execute a methodology which will take you from your current state to a higher level. As musicians, we spend countless hours working alone, often fighting frustration and fatigue to overcome and surpass our limits. The risk of public humiliation is certainly motivating!
Writing code and building software, much like music, is an intense intellectual and creative activity. I consider it part art, part science, and this may be in part why musicians are known to become good developers. People often talk about the left and right brains — I think that’s nonsense. It is the discipline, the attention to detail, the stubbornness, grit and the craftsmanship developed through musical training that, when applied to other fields, give musicians a competitive advantage.
One of the most enriching personal and professional experiences was becoming a fellow at the National Academy Orchestra of Canada, directed by Boris Brott. This program provided an immersive orchestral experience, and also filled the void in our education system by hosting seminars and workshops on running a business, accounting, taxes and how to hustle. The professional contacts made at the festival led to countless opportunities and I owe so much of both my musical and non-musical careers to this program. Not to mention that this is where I met my wife!
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 hung up the towel in 2015 and haven’t touched my oboes or English horn since. Unlike other instruments, the oboe can’t simply be picked up and played; oboists must build their own reeds which is a complex and time-consuming process.
I recently came into possession of a piano, and am relearning how to play on the few spare minutes I have a week, starting with some easier Mozart sonatas and Chopin nocturnes. My wife and I intend on signing our daughters up for music lessons once they are old enough, and I think everyone should have opportunity to learn a musical instrument. For me, the skillset developed through musical training are valuable assets for the job: ingenuity and the ability to listen.
For more information on Marc, candidate in the upcoming Ontario municipal election as Regional Councillor for the Township of Scugog, whose budget is smaller than a full-sized orchestra, visit www.votegibbons.com.
Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?