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Final curtain call for celebrated Sackville concert pianist

Sackville concert pianist Janet Hammock performs at her final professional recital, A Little Night Magic, in Halifax on May 9. Hammock has decided to retire as a professional musician to pursue other interests. (SHIMON WALT PHOTO)
Sackville concert pianist Janet Hammock performs at her final professional recital, A Little Night Magic, in Halifax on May 9. Hammock has decided to retire as a professional musician to pursue other interests. (SHIMON WALT PHOTO) - Submitted

Janet Hammock retires from professional career, still plans to perform at fundraising recitals

SACKVILLE, N.B. – It was a bittersweet moment for Janet Hammock as she took her final bows in her farewell concert earlier this month – sad to be stepping away from a professional career that has been her passion for more than five decades but also looking forward to the road ahead as she embarks onto the next stage of her life.

A celebrated concert pianist, Hammock is now shifting gears and will be retiring from her life as a professional musician but promises she will still make time for music in her life by playing fundraising recitals or other select performances.

She says it was a tough decision but one that she needed to do at this point in her life.

“You have to stop somewhere,” says Hammock.

Having started playing piano at the age of four, Hammock admits this is a “huge, huge step,” calling it a very personally significant milestone after a lengthy career.

“You just want to do it always, you just love it so much.”

But having sustained hearing loss over the past decade as well as developing arthritis in her left hand, the Sackville musician says it has become more and more challenging to continue – playing does not come as easy as it used to.

“When you’re doing performances as a paid, professional musician, you’ve got to deliver at the highest possible standard,” says Hammock.

To perform at that level, she says it requires several hours of rehearsal each and every day to perfect all the pieces for a recital. At 76, “I’m not getting any younger,” she says as she points out how physical and demanding playing piano is, requiring a lot of muscle training.

Hammock’s final curtain call came on May 9, when she performed a repertoire with three other Atlantic Canadian musicians at a concert hosted by the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) at the Halifax Central Library. A Little Night Music was a resounding success, she says, featuring a program of all-Canadian nocturnes or pieces on the theme of the night.

Hammock’s work over the years have consistently showcased new pieces she has commissioned by Canadian composers such as Ann Southam, Michael Miller, Alasdair Maclean, Anthony Genge, Richard Gibson and Martin Kutnowski.

“It’s important,” she says of her focus on promoting Canadian music. “Canada is filled with such amazing Canadian composers.”

In fact, in 2009, she was honoured as one of 50 Ambassadors of Canadian Music by the Canadian Music Centre – a lifetime distinguished achievement award given to outstanding Canadian performers and conductors who have played a significant role in shaping the Canadian music scene and raising the profile of Canadian music.

Hammock says now that she is about to have a bit more free time, she has plans to pursue some of her other budding interests. A certified Deep Listening Artist, who has taught this meditative listening practice at institutions and community centres throughout Atlantic Canada, Hammock will be starting work on authoring a book about deep listening that she hopes to have completed within three years.

“I love doing that so I’d like to continue with that.”She will also continue composing and has “a few things in mind” for new works she would like to create. Hammock also intends to continue hosting her radio program Fly Me to the Moon on CFTA, a program with a special focus on new classical music and Canadian works that hits the airways every other Sunday afternoon.

Gardening and cooking are also hobbies she hopes to be doing more of in the next few months.

And, of course, she will continue to perform – just in a more relaxed capacity.

“I still love playing and plan to play locally and at fundraisers and things.”

Born in Vancouver, Hammock got her start in piano at an early age after showing a keen interest in music as she listened to her grandmother, who played violin in a women’s orchestra. Her grandmother soon bought her an old upright piano and, at the age of four, she would reach up to try and play the keys. She soon began taking lessons from a member of her mother’s church choir and then began playing music festivals, eventually moving on to a teacher from the Registered Music Teachers’ Association.

Receiving lots of encouragement from family and friends to pursue her passion, she went on to study music and receive her undergrad degree at the University of Toronto. She then moved to New York for two years to study piano under a Canada Council Grant. Then, hearing about a unique program through the Yale summer school of music and art, she applied and was accepted. From there, she got asked by recruiters to come to Yale and “the rest, as they say, is history.” She went on to receive her masters and doctorate in musical arts at Yale.

Her first job was at Whittier College, where she taught piano and music theory for five years. But wanting to return to Canada, she soon found herself looking for job openings. She was short-listed at a few places, including for positions at University of Victoria and Mount Allison University. Although the University of Victoria chose another candidate, Hammock says she was soon traveling to Sackville, New Brunswick, where she found a welcoming and beautiful campus and community – and a job that fit her to a tee, she says.

That was in 1975 and “next thing I know, I’ve been here all of these years.”

Hammock retired from teaching in 2001 and was appointed Professor Emeritus of Music at Mount Allison University in 2003.

Her recitals of solo and collaborative piano music have been presented across Canada, the US and Europe.

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