Not every high-level student athlete can readily make the transition from playing competitive soccer more than 15 hours a week to practicing the saxophone for the same amount of time. But then again, Tara Henechowicz is no ordinary student.
Tara first started playing the saxophone in Grade 7 at Willowbrook Public School in Thornhill and enjoyed it so much that she joined the Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra in Grade 9. Meanwhile her main focus continued to be soccer and she was playing at close to a provincial level at her athletic-based high school. However, when Tara underwent reconstructive knee surgery of her ACL and meniscus in Grade 9, her surgery unraveled a tedious and limiting rehabilitation path. While this news would be potentially devastating for most kids, Tara decided to channel her energy toward her other love, playing and writing music.
She quickly realized that her new-found passion for music required more in-depth coursework and opportunities than what her current school had to offer. Tara’s parents had heard about The Country Day School’s music program and academic reputation and decided to find out more. Ultimately, Tara enrolled at CDS mid-way through her Grade 10 year.
Today her daily music schedule is just as intense as her soccer schedule used to be. Her school day runs from 8:45 to 4:30, followed by twice-weekly saxophone lessons at the University of Toronto. Tara considers herself fortunate to be a student of Chelsea Shanoff, a member of U of T’s Faculty of Music with a strong interest in contemporary music. On Saturdays Tara is enrolled in a program at Humber College for Jazz from 8:00 to 1:00. She does all of this while doing her best to keep to a practice schedule of four hours a day outside of school and maintaining a 94% average!
Tara really noticed a difference in the quality of music education at CDS. “When I arrived, I had no concept of theory, rhythm or technique,” she confesses. “Ms. Promane and Mr. Arrigo and the other music faculty have opened up a whole new world for me.”
Tara has been very involved as a student at CDS. She is a member of the School Jazz Band, has performed with CISMF and the Royal Conservatory Jazz Ensemble, and is a recipient of the Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra Giant Steps Award for being a leader and demonstrating improvement within the Ensemble. Last year, she attended the Chicago Heritage Music Festival with the CDS Jazz and Concert Bands and won a distinguished award called the Maestro Award for her outstanding individual solo performance with the Jazz Band. And Tara still plays sports, including soccer and softball for CDS, but at a less competitive level.
Not only does Tara love playing and performing, she also enjoys composing music, something she has done since Grade 7, typically on the guitar or piano. She used to be mostly a lyricist and melody composer more than progression writer, however, she has been studying theory and composition for the past two years and is now writing her own progressions and songs. As she considers her university options, Tara ultimately wants to branch out and learn more about classical and jazz, as well as other different genres to incorporate into her music. The genres she enjoys most include country, pop and rock.
Recently Tara signed a professional song writing contract with a firm in Los Angeles, California. Through mutual friends in Toronto, she was introduced to a co-writer who she now works with on numerous projects. On her recent trips to Los Angeles, she had the good fortune of working with professional musicians in the studio to record songs she has written. She is in the process of trying to get these songs on artists’ records and is benefitting from having an experienced publisher, Mickey Stevenson, one of the original A&R men for MoTown Records. This phenomenal experience has also helped to expand her repertoire to include rap and R&B.
Last summer Tara attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program, an international program that attracts top music students from more than 70 countries who want to study jazz and contemporary music. Tara enjoyed the program immensely and is now in the throes of university applications.
Auditions are an anxiety-ridden and intensely competitive component of the university application process for music students.
Tara explains, “I started practicing my audition pieces months in advance, but the audition, itself, is a euphoric and nerve-wracking experience. You spend months practicing for the one event – the 15-30 minute performance that ultimately determines your university acceptance and your future. Sometimes, I have no idea what the audition will be like, each school has a completely different protocol. Typically, when you walk into the audition room, there is a panel of 2-3 judges who are all staring at you and sometimes stop you after only playing 5 minutes of the 30 minutes of music you are asked to prepare. Sometimes, you walk out with an amazing glow, knowing that I did what I had to do - get into the zone and let the music flow.”
After recently finishing this grueling audition process, Tara has already been accepted to internationally renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, McGill’s Schulich School of Music for orchestral performance and music theory, Wilfrid Laurier’s Faculty of Music (with an audition scholarship), and Western’s Faculty of Music, as well as the prestigious McGill Science and McMaster Life Science Programs. She is now weighing these options carefully with the help of her family and the music and guidance faculty at CDS.
Another complicating factor for Tara is the challenge of incorporating her keen interest with the correlation between music and psychology into a dual major to allow her to incorporate a scientific research component. She is fascinated by recent studies that demonstrate how music affects the brain, in particular how music therapy can benefit Parkinson’s patients.
“I am interested in learning how to manipulate music and my compositions to create certain effects with the brain and the way it functions.” Tara’s challenge is that most of the top music programs don’t allow double majors.
Reflecting back on her past two years at CDS, she feels she has sacrificed a lot to get to the level she is at, but believes it has all been worth it. Transferring her skills to music from the intensity she channeled toward soccer has paid off.
“I’ve had a really crazy journey. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without my phenomenal parents. They have supported me immensely, especially by allowing me to transfer to CDS. I’ve worked really hard and I’m a totally different student [than when I started at CDS]. CDS feels like a small community, but there is so much academic and extra-curricular talent here. Some of my fellow students are absolutely brilliant.”
In the future Tara would love to continue to write, maybe for TV, movies, electronic production … she’s not quite sure. But she also dreams of pursuing the research aspect and being academically involved with her music. We hope she succeeds in finding something that allows her to do both!