Cocktails with KB | Carol Kehoe

There is a special place in my heart for the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. The degree from Redeemer University College reminds me every day that my love for music is deep-seated. When I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Carol Kehoe; executive director of the HPO, that deep love for music came rushing back.  Over French 75’s and Roija at Two Black Sheep, we talked music, community, Hamilton, walking dogs and everything in between. Carol’s eyes light up when she talks about the HPO, and she gets excited when she can share about the partnerships and the role of the orchestra in Hamilton. She is a strong and inspiring leader in our city. Grab a cocktail and be inspired! (and then go buy tickets to the next HPO concert!!! www.hpo.org)


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Over the years, I have been really fortunate to have lots of really smart people give me lots of good advice. Everything from “read everything you can”, in other words, don’t censor yourself or limit your understanding, make sure that you take in what somebody else is saying, to “listen to your gut”, which I interpret to mean have faith in my own decisions, my own opinions. But I’m going to say that the very best advice I’ve received in the last little while is to take the time to reflect. I’ve learned that reflection is a really great way for people to get to the right decision, get to the right place. It allows you time to listen to other opinions, stories. Taking the time to think about things…it’s a constructive way of being able to do the right thing.

Who is on your guest list for your ideal dinner party and why?
President Obama right now. I would love the opportunity to hear him reflect on the last 8 years, to share verbally (Because I’m sure he is going to write a book!), but wouldn’t it be great to hear it from him? Let’s make the dinner party 6 people, me included. Steven Sitarski, who is our concertmaster at the HPO. I think Steven is one of the best artists I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with! He is very interesting, and he has a really broad perspective on life, and I think getting the chance to listen more to that would be very entertaining. Gemma New, of course. (HPO music director.) For a person who is so young, she has a wealth of experience and understanding. Terry Cooke has become one of my favourite people. I learn something new about Hamilton every time I get the chance to talk to him. It is always inspiring to listen to him, and get his perspective on things. Finally, I would have Flora MacDonald. In my preteens, she was the first publicly visible woman who was playing in the big leagues, and she helped me realize women could do anything they wanted. She’d be at the table so I could thank her.

We’re 4 months into 2016, what are you looking forward to in the next 8?
Absolutely looking forward to the 2016/2017 season. The concerts in the first half, right through to Christmas are all fabulous. Our holiday show is going to be Charlie Brown-themed, I’m so excited! And, I’m looking forward to the October show, which is going to be Spanish music. We’re putting a lot of plans in place for the 2017 150th celebration for Canada, too. We probably won’t announce the plans until the summer, but it’s really fun to be organizing them with the artistic team and our community partners. I’m also looking forward to summer because it’s the only time I can go to the cottage. It’s a great chance to relax, reflect.

What is the best thing about what you do?
The fact that I get to work on behalf of the community, providing and bringing performing arts, particularly music, to Hamilton citizens. It’s really wonderful when you can take a passion and work within it, and advocate and help other people see why it can be beneficial to their lives. That’s the best thing. Aside from that, I get to work with really talented, smart people, and not just at the HPO. When you work with an organization that is serving the community, you’re allowed the opportunity to work with a whole bunch of other organizations where people are doing the same thing, so you meet more smart people! It’s a privilege.

Who or what has been your greatest influence in your career and why?
I’ve been really fortunate to have so many people that have invested in me and have encouraged me. I’m going to go right back to the person who took a chance. I was 16 years old, I had decided I was going to be a journalist and I was determined I was going to work for a newspaper. The city editor for the London Free Press came to my grade 11 classroom. I was so excited. I asked him 1000 questions! At the end of the class, I went up to him, and I said I wanted to work at the newspaper, how would I do that? He said to send my resume to the HR department, they’ll take a look at it. I said, “That’ll go into the round file, I really want a job”. He said, “Come see me Saturday.” He hired me that day to be a copy person in the newsroom. It was the lowest entry point possible and I was the first female copy person they’d hired. I was able to do that while I was in high school and university. His name was Jim O’Neill and he took a risk, encouraged me and gave me an opportunity. It set my career in motion.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Definitely wine. I love wine, New World wines especially. I also love chocolates from Forrat’s on Locke Street. I eat far too many of those!

What is the career path that brought you here to Hamilton?
After I left journalism, I began working in the non-profit sector as a consultant. When I was doing that, arts organizations were part of my client base, and that eventually turned into working full-time as an arts professional for a professional theatre and a gallery-museum, at different times. When the opportunity came up to work with a professional orchestra, I jumped at the chance to have the trifecta!

The HPO is an institution in Hamilton; how do you stay relevant in an age when people can get music anywhere and the music people listen to has changed so much?
There are a few ways we can do that. One way is to help expose people to a live orchestra experience. We know you can listen to orchestral music a myriad of digital ways, and that’s great. In fact, the research tells us that more people are listening to orchestral music now than ever before because they have access to it. But something can be lost with the digital version. You don’t “see” it. Any opportunity to see it live elevates that listening experience. Now, you’re using more senses than just your ears. You’re using your eyes, your skin is feeling the music. If you can get that experience, and it affects you viscerally, then you can see more relevance in the orchestra. Another thing we do is provide more information about the art form. We do that through social media, through the promotional materials we create, through talks and lectures, and the small ensem- ble experiences that give people a chance to talk to the musicians. Once we can take the scary “I don’t know anything about orchestral music” away, it becomes something that people think they can go to, listen to and it doesn’t seem so far out of reach. The more we do that, the more people are going to come and listen to an orchestra perform in their community. The third thing we’re doing is partnering. We’re trying not to work or perform in isolation. What we do is part of a larger art community. We are part of an arts fabric. We help create this experience that is larger than just us. We have links to the AGH, theatre arts, education, health, municipal government. We have a responsibility to the whole community that makes the HPO relevant.

You’re passionate about coaching new and emerging leaders; where does that passion come from?
In my early years as a young journalist, it was wonderful to have the support of some of my bosses. They encour- aged me to do innovative things, creative things. They had my back when things didn’t go quite right. I also observed it from my father. He worked for Bell Canada for his entire life. I watched how he worked with young crews. Sometimes those young crew guys would come back to the house after they finished a construction job. I watched how he interacted with them…he was helping them learn how to be better at their jobs, and in terms of what they wanted to accomplish in their lives. He also provided a sense of wholeness, too. It wasn’t just about the job, it was about their whole life; who did they want to be? I think because of this and my first job experiences, it felt really comfortable to work with young workers. It is about giving them an opportunity to express themselves, a chance to find their voice. And, they bring such great ideas to the table. That’s the other reason. Change doesn’t happen unless you have young voices in an organization, and I’m a big change agent. I want us to be better, do better. For this reason, I give young people a lot of time!



BEST GIFT YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED? My daughter surprised me and put Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk music video on my iPod for my birthday.

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR COFFEE? With steamed milk.

A BOOK YOU PLAN ON READING? The Point Is: Making Sense of Birth, Death, and Everything in Between by Lee Eisenberg

WHAT INSPIRES YOU? My HPO team and organization, my daughter, a good book, daffodils, people who do good work, people who take risks.


WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU’RE ALONE IN YOUR CAR (OR ON YOUR WALK)? I am always thinking of the HPO. I am reflecting, taking that opportunity to think about what happened in the day, what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week.



FAVOURITE BAND? I have to do a list!! For sure, Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Earth Wind and Fire, Medicine Hat and I have started to enjoy Lee Harvey Osmond. And I love Sharon and the Dap-Kings.

FAVOURITE SOLO ARTIST? Luther Vandross, when I’m sad. And David Garrett (a German violinist).

I learned how to read a conductor’s score! I don’t interface with the production and music very often in my job, so it’s not necessary to understand what note this or that is. But, this week I was part of a session where our music librarian was showing people how to read a conductor’s score. Yeah!

PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT? I’ve edited five cookbooks. I’m quite proud of the fact I understand recipes!


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