High Notes

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Music can change the world because it can change people - Bono

David Hetherington did not pick up his first cello until the ripe old age of 9.

“I was already late in the game,” laughs David, noting how important it is for professional musicians to take to their instrument early. 

Thankfully, once he did start playing the strings, he never looked back. A music teacher in his hometown of St. Catherines recognized his prodigious talent, and recommended to his family that he begin private lessons.

By the time he finished high school, he knew that music would be his life, and proceeded on to the University of Toronto to study further.

He landed his audition for the prestigious Toronto Symphony Orchestra prior to graduation, and stayed with the TSO for the next 45 years. 

While his father always encouraged him “not to close any doors,” his family eventually grew comfortable with his success.

After his time with TSO ended 7 years ago, David has gone on to pursue other musical passions

He, along with clarinetist Joaquin Valdepenas and pianist Serouj Kradjian form the Amici Chamber Ensemble – one of Canada’s most distinguished Chamber music ensembles. 

While his schedule is less onerous than it was in his TSO days, he also contributes his talent to Soundstreams Canada, still teaches, and yes, still practices every day.

“You have to,” says David. “The older you get, the more you have to practice.” 

David cautions, however, that he has not pushed his own children to follow in his footsteps.

“I’ve had colleagues who planned on having their children take over for them, and I have seen so many people take such a strict and unyielding approach that I did not want to do that with my own children,” says David.

Today he is a grandfather of 8, and one of his granddaughters has begun studying cello in middle school. However unlike some of his colleagues, David is sitting back and letting her study at her own pace.

One of the greatest music appreciators is his late wife, who passed away recently after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Not a musician herself, she helped David maintain outside interests, and kept him grounded in maintaining a life beyond his heart.

However, she always appreciated music around the house, from recognizing talented students while he was giving private lessons, to being able to discern when he was working with a new bow on his instrument. 

As her illness progressed, David noted that one of the faculties that remained with her was her love of music. 

“She lived at home for as long as she could, and I had music going on all the time,” says David. “It was mostly Baroque, which was fortunate because I love it too, and she would always comment on how lovely the music was.” 

While he has not been touched by mental illness directly, David has several performer colleagues who have been severely affected, and he has seen through his wife’s own illness how soothing and therapeutic music can be.

“Alzheimer’s is not a mental illness, but there are similarities in the early stages, and so I have an empathy for what’s going on in people’s minds.” 

David has performed with High Notes Avante previously, and played a duet with his Amici colleague at the previous gala.

This year, though, he will be performing a solo piece entitled The Soulmate, by Canadian composer Chan Ka Nin.

He feels the piece communicates both tough and tender moments, and the highs and lows that the piece evokes may be familiar to those who are living with mental illness. 

David also recognizes that playing chamber music creates such an unspoken bond, especially while playing with others, hence the title ‘soulmate.’ He believes that the piece might help those listening better relate to each other without even needing to say a word. 

“Sometimes when you’re playing music there are the kinds of images that come to you and that you try to present to the listeners. They may not know exactly what it is that you’re thinking, but they can certainly feel the character and the colour of what you’re doing and get some connection.” 

For David, that connection has been instrumental in helping to use music as a tool to help those around him communicate – a skill which he continues to hone every time he picks up his cello.

“If everybody tried as hard to communicate as we do when we play music, says David, “the world might be a lot better off.”

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