“Two years ago, I decided to ignore the voice in my head that says I am too old to start music, and enrolled in an opera singing class in the San Francisco Conservatory’s Adult Extension program.” Ned Taleb, CEO of Nexius and B. Yond, has an impressive resume. With five successful companies and numerous awards and distinctions for his business acumen and entrepreneurial ventures, it’s safe to assume that he doesn’t have much free time.
But with a classical guitar degree from the National Conservatory of Music in Lebanon, Taleb’s passion for music is something that has followed him throughout his life. “Music plays a major role for me on a personal and professional level,” he says. “I play guitar for my kids, I sing to them, I perform for friends.”
Two years ago, Taleb began studying opera with Heidi Moss in SFCM’s Adult Extension program. “It has become one of my three addictions, my kids and coffee being the other two,” says Taleb. “The class is pure meditation, an incredible connection between singers. Heidi is a magician in the way she’s able to get people with various careers to sing beautifully and express their passion.”
Arie Perry, Chief of the Neuropathology Division at UCSF and a student of Moss, feels the same way. “My experience in the Adult Extension program has been a blast! Heidi Moss is a highly talented diagnostician and pedagogue, both in terms of vocal technique and performance. She brings out the best in all of her students in a highly supportive and fun environment.”
Perry studied folk guitar growing up, and when he became the lead singer of a rock band in high school, he decided to start taking voice lessons. Thirty years later, music continues to play an important role in his life. “I can no longer imagine not being involved in music in one fashion or another,” he says. “It nourishes my soul and keeps me sane.”
The Adult Extension program brings together people from all walks of life with all levels of musical training. Whether they are seeking to learn a new instrument or dust off an old one, everyone is welcome.
Moss was drawn to teaching in the program because of her own background. She majored in vocal performance and biology at Oberlin College, went on to study biochemistry in graduate school, and pursued a career as a research scientist before becoming a full-time music teacher and performer. “I understand the perspective of a person coming to this later in life and in a non-traditional way,” she says.
Moss is also interested in teaching older students for the particular set of challenges it presents. “The biggest fear of the adult amateur is failure and judgment. Stage fright is an issue among professionals, and it is exponentially stronger for these students. So what is joyous at home in the shower becomes terrifying in class. My first point in class is that there is no judgment, no right and wrong. Everyone, no matter what level, has something lovely about their singing.”
Moss, Perry, and Taleb all agree that the outcome of these classes is nothing short of magical. Taleb recalls a recent performance with his classmates, noting that they were all a group of strangers who came together through music and became a community. “Heidi’s way of leading with love infected us all,” says Taleb. “Rather than getting caught up competing with each other, we were encouraging each other, rooting each other on, exchanging last-minute hugs even as the final curtain came up.”
The environment of camaraderie and support stems from a combination of the students’ excitement for the subject and Moss’ expert mentorship and guidance. “They come to the table with a true love and passion for the art form,” Moss says. “It is really about allowing them to feel free enough to express themselves.”
Despite busy schedules and demanding careers, Taleb and Perry make time each week for class. “I find myself looking forward to Wednesday evenings as the time I will get to ‘be me,’” notes Taleb. For Perry, music helps give meaning to life. He says, “I once heard someone say that medicine saves lives and helps us all live longer, but music (and the arts) is what makes life worth living in the first place!”
Moss, too, looks forward to her time with her students. “The classes are the highlight of my week. The improvement is measurable and the entire class supports each other in a way that I have not seen in any other place… I am truly lucky to be doing this!”