When I was writing for Wind and Wire magazine, I was sent Patrick Lee Hébert’s The Poet’s Dream
to review. I really liked the album a lot, and emailed Patrick to let him know. That was the beginning of what has become a great friendship along with being a special professional relationship. A poet as well as a composer, and a piano teacher as well as a performer, Patrick has had a varied and fascinating career so far, and he’s still in his early 30’s. Three of Patrick’s pieces were included in Solo Piano Publication’s first collection of piano solos, “New Voices”, and Patrick has gone on to publish more of his own sheet music and songbooks through his Highland Piano Studios in New Hampshire. A young artist on the rise, here is an interview we did by email recently.
KP: When and where were you born?
Hébert: March 20, 1969 in Manchester, New Hampshire.
KP: How many brothers and sisters do you have? Are any of them musicians?
Hébert: One of each. My brother did a stint as a Pentecostal singer for 6 years with me in the band. He was great. He never did it again and just listens now. My sister played guitar in that band until she developed carpal tunnel syndrome and never played again.
KP: What are/were your parents’ occupations?
Hébert: My mother was a homemaker. My father was a boiler engineer. Then in 1977, they both became pastors, and life was forever different. Mom passed away when I was 24.
KP: What was it like growing up the son of pastors?
Hébert: There were pros and cons. The cons were things like no rock music, no school dances. However, I don’t think I ever would have become a performer without that. My early influences were classical and gospel - that was all I was allowed to listen to. (I didn’t own a rock album until I was 18.) So, that gave me the love for those forms that influenced my composing. I also played in our church as house pianist and soloist. I was in charge of the choir. I became Music Director at age 16. Our church toured me in the early '80’s as a gospel soloist all over New England. I was 13 a the time. I would play and Dad would preach. I developed the discipline it takes to practice every day.... no matter what. I still practice every day, so I am thankful that it worked out that way. I still play at the same church, and it was been twenty years now.
KP: How old were you when you started piano lessons? How long did you take formal lessons?
Hébert: I had a friend up the street who had a piano. We had one here in the church as well, but I didn’t want anyone to know. So, after school, we would figure out songs by ear. It was two years later, at the age of 12, that I decided to take formal lessons. I was taught by the best piano teacher around here. At the age of 18, I began studying with a prominent concert pianist, and was with him for ten years. Then I took master classes on Chopin and Mozart in Arizona. I still take lessons a few months a year, as I believe learning is for life. It also keeps me fresh for concerts.
KP: Were you encouraged to improvise or compose by your piano teachers?
Hébert: Yes, especially by my first teacher. She was very stern about theory and application. She called me her “dream student.” The others encouraged me, but were hardcore classical. They fumbled around a fake book, but could play all of the major concerti - amazing.
KP: Did you play in school orchestras or bands? Did you enter any music competitions?
Hébert: I went to a Christian school, and they did not have a band program. I was playing three days a week in church, though. Competitions? Many. I won a Mozart Competition when I was 15. It gave me a partial scholarship to University of New Hampshire, but I never got to use it since I married right out of high school.
KP: Do you play other instruments?
Hébert: Yes. Guitar and drums.
KP: How old were you when you started improvising?
Hébert: Age 10, before I started lessons, because I had no clue as to what I was doing. After formal lessons started and I could read well, I was improvising constantly.
KP: How old were you when you wrote your first song?
Hébert: I was 13 and madly in love with a girl named Stacey. She kept breaking up with me (ten times, if I remember correctly!), and I wrote a sad song named after her. The funny thing is that I kept ALL of those early songs (about 50 of them) and teach many to my students now.
KP: Did you play with any rock bands in high school or college?
Hébert: No, because I wasn’t allowed in high school, and I had no idea what rock music entailed. I was strictly classical, gospel, and new age. I didn’t play in a rock band until 1995. That lasted for a year, and I left to start my duo, Reverie (with guitarist Chris Lonsberry). I did get to play with Brad Delp from the supergroup “Boston,” though. That was my rock highlight. Now I prefer light jazz and occasionally play “cocktail piano” for kicks.
KP: At what point in your life did you know or decide that you were going to be a professional musician? Did your parents or family resist or object?
Hébert: I knew at age 13 when I was touring with the church. My mother claimed to have always known. Both parents were very supportive.
KP: When did you start playing professionally?
Hébert: I started playing for weddings for money and teaching neighborhood kids at age 15. I charged $3 an hour for lessons, but the church stuff was pretty big sometimes. Once I played solo for 500 people in a big Maine church - very exciting!
KP: Did you go to college?
Hébert: I wasn’t able to because of my marriage, and we had children right away. I started a degree in literature and plan to finish it. I could only do night school at that time, and music takes my whole working day now. But I will finish it.
KP: Who or what are your biggest musical influences?
Hébert: I could fill this page! Briefly, most classical - Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Faure. All ragtime. In the new age genre, George Winston, David Lanz, Shadowfax, and Spencer Brewer to name a few. The Doors also really affect my music and poetry. Jimmy Swaggart, BIGTIME. There are many other influences. I have a collection of 900 CDs so far, and I listen to music a lot. My most recent favorite is Janie Campbell, who I met at David Lanz’s workshop at Kathy’s house. Her music is absolutely beautiful.
KP: How did Jimmy Swaggart influence your music? I didn’t know he played the piano.
Hébert: I idolized him as a child. I think he shows up most in my gospel playing (which I plan to do one or two of at the concert). Trills and arpeggios between verses were his specialty, and he had a very honest approach to playing. He would seem to just toy in the upper register, but he really was amazing. I was enthralled with his voice, too.
KP: What inspired you to start composing your own music?
Hébert: I think it was all the nights sitting around with headphones on listening to classical music. Also, I wanted to paint nature scenes, but I was hopeless. I needed a vent, and composing really just happened on its own.
KP: What kinds of jobs have you had to date? Are you a musician only now?
Hébert: I did everything from drive-up at Wendy’s to a rug cleaner. That was early. My most recent job was as Water Superintendent for my hometown. I left in 1999 to do Highland Piano Studios full-time. I also did a stint as a piano salesman from 1989-94. I’ve played in a lot of shopping malls.
KP: Do you manage your own career, or do you have a manager?
Hébert: I manage myself, but recently hired a publicist. I can’t be everywhere at once anymore with the growing number of concerts as well as my teaching schedule.
KP: How do you see your musical future shaping up?
Hébert: Great! My music is selling more every day. I am also getting a lot of concert appearances without looking - they actually call me now, so I feel very good about it all. I have been marketing myself very hard, though, and my trips to California are getting me some exposure. And I get to see Kathy every time - the best part.
KP: How are you going about “marketing yourself”?
Hébert: I do a lot of charity shows as well as local TV and radio. The publicist also helps. I make a lot of appearances and serve on boards. Lately, I have been sending out troops of teens to canvas areas with my CDs. I give them a good piece for their charity. These are mostly high school bands who always need money. It all works.
KP: How old were you when you first got married? When you had your first child? How old are your kids now?
Hébert: I was nineteen by six days when I got married, and 19 when my daughter, Lindsay, was born. I had three kids, went through a divorce, and married my present wife, Caroline, in 1994. We have a son. The kids are Lindsay, 14; Ashley, 12; Alexandra, 8; and Patrick Lee the 2nd, 3. Caroline is a Pampered Chef director. She has her own business in high value cookware.
KP: What has been your most exciting musical moment or experience so far?
Hébert: Probably playing my song, “Jealousy of the Moon” with David Lanz sitting right next to me (after the workshop). That was incredible.
KP: How do you go about writing a piece of music? Is most of your music improvised or do you do more traditional, formalized composition? Do you have a preference?
Hébert: Both. I will plan a song sometimes. This is how I do most of my student pieces. I also improvise a theme and work it during concerts as it takes its own shape. During recordings as well, an extra improvisation sneaks in on its own. Most of my songs start with an idea in my head - a thought or memory - and I just go with it. All of my hymns are formally written.
KP: Is there one particular piece that you feel says the most about who you are as a person?
Hébert: Yes - probably “Soul Search” from the album “Murmurs.” I have had some trying times in my life - you can hear it in my music and poetry. “Soul Search” is like its name - searching for balance in my life and career. Never give up.
KP: What is your ultimate goal as a composer/professional musician?
Hébert: To compose and perform only. I love to travel. I would like a good fan base across the country so touring and making CDs and books will be enough.
KP: Is there a particular philosophy that you try to convey in your music?
Hébert: Yes - honesty. If I feel sad, I write it. If I feel hopeful or touched in any way, I convey it with music. I hope when people hear the music it can relate to their individual situations and perhaps they will be blessed.
KP: Are you a good sight-reader? So many composers don’t read music at all anymore.
Hébert: I still practice two hours a day, at least. With all of the teaching I do, I have to be a good sight-reader. I have never stopped learning new pieces, so that keeps it up.
KP: How many piano students do you have?
KP: Do you often teach your own music to your students?
Hébert: Yes. I write at all levels for them. I teach a lot of classical music, too. I am very diverse in my materials - just no Britney Spears, please!!!!
KP: What is your favorite age group to teach?
Hébert: 12-14. They are still serious enough to study. When the cars come and dating and all the pressures of high school, a lot of them just peter out and the piano goes to the backburner. It saddens me because many of these kids are super-talented.
KP What kinds of things are you doing with your poetry now?
Hébert: I am publishing “Hazes” with IUniverse in December, and it will be in Barnes and Noble stores. I’m very excited about that! The book will have about 65 poems, and is being edited right now.
KP: Do you ever put your poetry to music?
Hébert: Yes, but only in rock forms. I play guitar and sing in a small band called Lee and The Roaming Chickens. I do it for fun, but we are going to record a demo for kicks. I find it easier to do either poetry or music rather than putting them together.
KP: What about Reverie?
Hébert: Chris and I have nine shows lined up for November alone, and we plan to record our second CD soon. It is done, actually - we just need to practice and get it tight again. I enjoy that so much!
KP: Do you have any hobbies?
Hébert: Weight lifting, reading, writing poetry, and raising chickens for eggs. It is a lot of fun.
KP: What do you like to do in your free time?
Hébert: I usually spend time with my wife and children. We take walks and try to do a family function every week. I also use it for my hobbies. I am an avid reader and will often “disappear for a day” (as my wife puts it) to read a good book. I structure my life so I can do it all. I obviously do not sleep much. Ha ha.
KP: What are your favorite colors?
Hébert: Blue and green.
KP: Do you have any words of advice for young people who are studying music now?
Hébert: Practice. I know soccer and other sports are fun, but, believe me, you will appreciate the art of your playing when you are an adult. It lasts a lifetime. Use this time to grow musically - you will not regret it. Very few students become professional musicians, but many play until they take their last breath. It is what I plan to do.