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From keys to trees; classical pianist goes out on a limb




Jim Withers


It’s sometimes good to know people in high places – or at least people able to climb to high places when you need your Siberian elm trimmed.


Friend Derek Yaple-Schobert is such a person.


A former professional classical-music pianist, 51-year-old Derek decided three years ago to branch out career-wise and become a climbing tree pruner, which sounds so much more elegant in French (élagueur-grimpeur). He made the leap from keys to trees.

A native of Wisconsin, Derek and his mother moved to Canada when he was two. Growing up in le Plateau Mont-Royal, Derek did his schooling en français – his mom was a French teacher and insisted on it – and he describes himself as a francophile anglophone. In addition to Canada’s two official languages, Derek speaks Danish – his late stepdad was from Copenhagen – and can get by in Swedish and German.

With a doctorate in classical piano from l’Université de Montréal, Derek recorded a couple of albums and performed in recitals from Alaska to Aix-en-Provence.


He then shelved his piano career as a result of full-time caregiving duties for his mother, disruptions caused by COVID and frustration associated with the music biz. An only child, Derek chose to dedicate his time and energy to looking after his Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s-afflicted mom in her final years. Finally, though, it was time for Derek to, as the Monty Python gang might say, try something completely different, and he decided to – of all things – learn the ropes of tree pruning.





It’s not that tall, lanky Derek had ever done much climbing, but he had a cabin in the woods, liked being outdoors and working with his hands, especially with growing things and chainsaws. Derek knew, from the first time he picked one up, that he had a thing for chainsaws. Tree pruning involves the use of chainsaws, ergo he enrolled in a nine-month course. In his late 40s, Derek was the oldest student in the class. Second oldest was a 41-year-old Laotian manicurist who was making an equally unlikely career switch.


Pianist-turned-pruner Derek's credo is it’s never too late to go out on a limb and try something new.


In my case, though, it probably won’t involve chainsaws or climbing.

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