Sheila White’s advice: Make music happen

The musical duo of OOE resident Sheila White (left) and Lucile Brais Hildesheim. Photo by Alan Bennett-White

The musical duo of OOE resident Sheila White (left) and Lucile Brais Hildesheim. Photo by Alan Bennett-White


It was both an eye-opening and an ear-opening experience chatting recently with Sheila White on the topic of music. Her sheer love of life is intoxicating – and she attributes much of it to her love and her family’s love of music.

White is a freelance musician who is both a teacher and performer. She conducts several ensembles including a concert band with Ottawa New Horizons, which is part of a nonprofit international community helping to expand music-making opportunities for adults. Adults with various backgrounds and experience join the organization to learn or relearn to play music because they love it.

She also gives private classes and tutoring in her Old Ottawa East home studio, teaching the classical flute, Irish flute, Suzuki flute and recorder. As a performer, she has played in orchestras, Celtic bands and chamber ensembles, and is best known for her flute and harp duo with Lucile Brais Hildesheim.

White’s husband, and their two sons, are all heavily into music. It’s an important part of their lives, individually and as a family.

According to White, recent research shows that humans rebuild and build neuron pathways when playing music. “Musical skills transfer to life skills, and vice versa,” she says. “Music is an essential part of a balanced education. Music affects real learning. Engaging in music is an entire workout for the brain, and meanwhile, it’s FUN!”

And if that’s not enough, White notes as well that music is a main contender for developing self-discipline, analytical skills, creativity, social skills, memory, self-confidence, building self-esteem and helping to counterbalance depression and anxiety.

In 2006, UNESCO declared Arts Education as a universal human right. To quote the eminent flutist Paula Robison, “Art and the Arts are not a luxury just for the chosen few; the Arts are for everyone. To appreciate it and to have beauty in your life is to be fully human”.

Sadly, our children’s school report cards list the subject ‘Arts’ at the bottom of the second page. In White’s view, our school system hasn’t yet made Arts a priority, nor given it the recognition it deserves. She thinks this will someday change, but it will take some time for that to occur.

White points out that many of her former students are making inroads in their chosen fields, and they have attributed much of their success to their musical training. Music brings balance to our lives; without music education in the school system, there will be less and less balance and creativity in our world. If we don’t nurture this creativity, she asks, how are our scientists going to make their many breakthroughs?

“I love teaching,” she adds with gusto. “Over the years, as I got more into teaching and taking pedagogy courses, I became a better musician. And as I became a better musician, I would think about how I was going to take that back to my students – and I became an even better teacher! It just keeps going so beautifully back and forth.

“The exciting thing is that we’re always learning. And as a teacher, you’re always learning. The juices are always flowing. It’s open-ended”!

To those who are thinking about a future in the music world, apart from a degree in music, White suggests taking a basic business course; if someone wants to become a freelance musician and/or be one’s own boss, you’ve got to get a sense of business. Sadly, many people are taken advantage of in this field. People often assume that you’ll perform for nothing, or for very little. Bookkeeping, Marketing, and Studio Management are also crucial. You’ll most likely be your own agent, teaching privately as well as with other organizations.

White also quickly offers this advice to everyone, and especially to teenagers and those in University: volunteer in the community. She notes that so many groups need an extra pair of hands, whether it be flipping burgers at a picnic, offering to help set up a local craft show, or mowing your elderly neighbour’s lawn – the jobs are endless and so are the contacts that will be made, which could very well become priceless. Community spirit and getting to know those on your street and area is one of the building blocks to a successful and safe neighbourhood, according to White. Learning new skills is critical in going out into the world and these people we meet along the way help us to find ourselves. They may be able to offer advice or introductions to someone else in your field. Besides, being able to help others is never a bad thing.

“It’s not the kind of situation where you get your music degree and then say, ‘Ok, now who’s looking for me’? Or discover the perfect job in the want ads. Because YOU have got to make it happen”.

‘When Winter Comes’ is the name of the new CD that White, playing the flute, and her music partner, harpist Lucile Brais Hildesheim, recorded at Dominion-Chalmers Church and released last November. The CD is available at The Leading Note Music Shop, 370 Elgin Street in Ottawa. Their next live performance is at the NAC Fourth Stage on November 24th

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Filed in: Culture, Front Page

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