Violinist Whale makes classical music relevant

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Brandon-Richard Austin

Mark Whale is a General Education professor at Humber College. He is also a classically trained violinist.

Life began for eldest-born Whale in England, whose mother played piano.

His father, a priest, played violin, an instrument Whale himself would eventually study extensively himself.

Around the time Whale was growing up, England was known for exporting loads of great pop music. But the young Whale found himself practicing classical music from an early age by virtue of his “sheltered upbringing.”

“In England, there are four main radio stations,” said Whale, referring to BBC’s Radio 1-4 stations.

“Radio 1 and 2 play pop music and it was almost sacrilegious in my house to play those… I didn’t really know about pop culture until John Lennon died in 1980, when I discovered the Beatles.”

But by then, the classical music bug had bitten; Whale was already practicing the violin more than four hours a night.

“At the beginning, nothing was driving me to play violin except my parents. I’ve often wondered if I would’ve played violin otherwise. But by the age of 16, I had the choice to go to university or the [London’s Royal] Academy.

Throughout Whale’s career as a solo violinist, as well as a member of the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra, he has often faced the difficulty of trying to make his music relevant to those around him.

“I often invite people to concerts and then wonder, ‘Well, why should you come to this concert?,’” said Whale.

“I want to be able to articulate that. The meaning will not be direct,” he said, contrasting it against something such as going to the gym which has direct benefits.

One of the ways Whale manages to make his philosophy behind music relevant to others is through teaching Liberal Arts at Humber College.

A look at Whale’s profile on www.ratemyprofesors.com finds students comments such as:

“Mark was such a great help. He literally changed my view on life, for the better. Laid back, open minded and musical. Anyone who has him as a prof will feel very fortunate.”

“I occasionally have some students come up to me and say I’ve changed their view on life,” said Mark. “That’s rare.”

“It’s sometimes challenging to get students to think deeply. It was the same at The Academy. Students that came in as great violinists left as great violinists. People who came in as mediocre musicians left mediocre. It’s hard to move people between the two,” he said, stating people often come to education with a particular mindset and attitude that is hard to shift.

Whale’s thesis for his degree from University of Toronto’s Doctor Of Philosophy in Music Education is titled “Music as The Between: the idea of meeting in existence, music and education.”

In the document, one can see Whale’s level of in-depth thought behind his philosophy of life and music.

That deep-thought approach is one of the key reasons Whale came to Canada.

“I feel more at home here,” he said, remarking he found many mentors and colleagues able to share in his thought processes.

Whale currently performs with the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra roughly six to seven times per week. The ensemble will be performing The Bold and the Beautiful tonight at 8 p.m. at Martingrove Collegiate Institute.

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