Some might think that an interest in classical music is not a Caribbean thing – that classically trained concert pianists from the islands are rare to the point of being non-existent.
Oswald Russell, Paul Shaw, Eleanor Alberga and Orrett Rhoden are prime examples of those who have excelled in the classical music arena. Now add one more name to that list – a talented Jamaican-born pianist by the name of Alan Hobbins.
So how did Alan Hobbins grow to love classical music? It began with piano lessons.
“I started playing when I was about seven years old,” said Hobbins. “It became apparent that it was something I wanted.”
Hobbins actually started with organ music and played pop music briefly, but classical became his main focus. He was so enamoured with classical, that he went on to study piano at the prestigious Julliard School in New York. From that point on, his career path was set.
Attending Julliard was an experience that Hobbins looks back on fondly.
“Julliard is a significant high point for me. I never thought I would go to a school like that so it was an eye-opening experience. It is something as a little boy that you think about off and on but you never think would happen. But I was very blessed.
“Students like myself were studying because we wanted to be performing artists, so the whole environment was an education in itself,” said Hobbins.
Hobbins is extremely grateful for the guidance he received from his instructors at Juilliard, who were also talented musicians. He credits Oxana Yablonskaya in particular, as an instructor who significantly influenced his growth as pianist.
In addition to being a talented pianist, Hobbins has the ability to pass on the gift of what he has learned.
“As much as I teach, I also learn from students as well,” said Hobbins, who is a member of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association and president of the Markham Stouffville branch.
“You learn a lot from teaching just by observing how a student might reason out a piece of music. Each student has individual needs to some extent but my focus is to prepare them for each level.”
Hobbins is also passionate about reggae music, which is apparent when he discusses the two genres.
“I suppose the biggest difference is that there are a lot of intricacies in classical music that require more listening. The more you listen, the more you hear.
Reggae music is more direct so the appreciation may be a little faster. I never really did a comparison between reggae and classical,” said Hobbins.
“Maybe this would be an ideal thesis,” he added with a laugh.
Hobbins admits that classical music does not allow for as much freedom because the music has already been composed compared to jazz, where there is room to improvise.
Overall, while some audiences may not initially embrace classical music, Hobbins finds ways to reach out to the mainstream community. He is attempting to bring back traditional classical music concerts and has been making progress.
“I’ve tried over the few years that I have been playing to go with a repertoire which I think is easy for the audience to understand, if they have never heard some of these pieces before and they will only hear while listening to the music.
“Some repertoire need lots of listening in order to understand the intricacies of what it is. So repertoire is important, I think, for the audience,” said Hobbins.
For Caribbean audiences, Hobbins has been known to perform Jamaican pieces as encores, including Bob Marley medleys. This is something that audience members can look forward to on September 9, when he performs at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.
The patron of his concert is Jamaica’s Consul General to Toronto, Seth George Ramocan. Since Jamaica is celebrating its 50th anniversary of Independence, Hobbins’ concert is dedicated to the celebration.
“I want to play and put a repertoire together that is special so that I have something to communicate and offer. I always have a freedom and I hope that by playing it I can move someone the same way I would be moved.
“If you really search yourself artistically and you try to communicate to the best of your ability what you are saying, or feeling, I think the audience does pick up on that and I think they can appreciate that as well,” said Hobbins.
By ANGELA WALCOTT