Leslie Kwan

Orchestra Founder

Location: Boston, MA

"I wanted to go back to music, and my husband wanted a divorce. I decided I wouldn't put my dreams on hold anymore."

Music has been the center of my life for as long as I can remember. Most of my formative years were spent practicing to become a professional pianist, but at age 19, I hit a wall and stopped performing for six years. I listened to my heart, and my heart said I needed a break, so I took it.

At 25 I returned to school and discovered the harpsichord. I dived back into music with joy, grateful to have finally found my instrument, and went on to earn a bachelor's and a master's degree and to start a doctoral program in performance. I was ready to become the musician I dreamed of being.

In my early 30s I moved to Boston, got married, put my doctorate on hold and got a job in sales to support my family. It was unfamiliar and I felt out of my element. What was supposed to be a one-year stint at work turned into eight, and during that time my mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. It was tough for my mother and the rest of my family, but my mother made it through and has been in remission for six years. When she was sick, my mother and I often talked about music and how listening to live recordings soothed her during her examinations. Her experience with cancer became the inspiration for the next movement in my life.

In June 2007 I wanted to go back to music and my husband wanted a divorce. I decided I wouldn't put my dreams on hold anymore. On July 23, I decided to start a baroque orchestra with a colleague. During the seemingly endless years of separating from my husband, I invested myself, emotionally and financially, into making the orchestra a reality. I'd work all day, go home or to the studio to either practice or tackle the mountains of paperwork for the orchestra until midnight, and do it all over again the next day. Yet it never felt like work, because I was finally flying again. I was living my art and it fueled me to live in the joyful place I knew existed.

In 2011 I decided to step away from the familiar and invest fully in my passion—music. I leaned in to run the orchestra full time. These days I'm a musician and an executive. I owe this amazing combination to the hands-on experience I learned in sales; it gave me the best MBA life could buy.

My passion for classical music has been the bedrock from which I get my strength. I've used it to navigate the various movements of this symphony we call life. I learned to listen to my heart when it needed to be still and granted myself permission to find that joy. Once you know where your joy lies, keep it close to your heart. It will always help you find your way.