Lawyers with side-hustles: Obelisk Support recently caught up with Ivan Guevara, a senior corporate and commercial lawyer with a side career as a professional pianist. Ivan has a solid academic background including a Ph.D. in corporate governance and corporate groups’ structures from Cambridge University. He also has in-depth knowledge in regards to managing, negotiating and completing all forms of commercial contracts and significant experience in the drafting of corporate agreements, codes of conduct and the development of general corporate strategy. Here is what he has to say on work-life balance and developing a passion outside of law.
The background: Senior corporate lawyer
Since qualifying in his native Colombia 25 years ago, Ivan is a senior corporate commercial lawyer with a solid academic background. After moving to the UK and studying law at Exeter University, Ivan completed a MPhil in Latin American Studies in Cambridge followed by a PhD in corporate law (2003). In London, he worked initially in private practice and later worked as senior in-house lawyer in various companies.
In a recent position, Ivan acted as a broker for companies keen to acquire carbon credits to offset their carbon footprint, connecting them with carbon credits from certified forestry projects that prevent deforestation or allow reforestation. Ivan also worked for a Middle East fund with a food security mandate, leveraging his M&A expertise to help them invest in companies that produce food all over the world.
Via Obelisk Support, Ivan has been in a variety of roles, including a senior consultant for a global telecommunications company.
The side-hustle: Latin music
“I started playing music at age six,” says Ivan who, from as a young boy, listened to songs on the radio and reproduced them on the piano. At age seven, he joined the Conservatoire at the National University of Bogota and when he finished school, had to decide whether to do music or law school. He eventually went for law school, continuing to do piano lessons privately. It was never his decision to play piano professionally but it all changed when he came to the UK where he went back to becoming a student.
In Cambridge, at the welcome lunch at St John’s College, he was invited to the Master’s Lodge where a grand Steinway stood in the sitting room. After discussing with the Master, Ivan was invited to play the piano but only if it was music from Colombia. In the UK, music from Latin America is not well known. People knew tangos and paso dobles, but there were plenty of other things that were difficult to play. Despite knowing few songs from Colombia, Ivan played Vino Tinto, a Colombiano pasillo. It was very fast and difficult to play and unusual in a very uptight context, but the reception was incredible.
Everybody loved it.
“I started playing music at age six.”
The side-hustle: How it progressed
In Colombia, pasillo music is regarded as grand-parents’ music but in the UK, it was brand new. St John’s College organised a concert for Ivan, attended by members of the King’s College Choir, the Elgar foundation, and other Cambridge figures. At the time, there was no Colombian music in the library and no music score either. Ivan played everything by heart.The group Classico Latino was born when Cambridge University asked Ivan if he would set up a group with a cellist from the college, Graham Walker. At their first concert, they played Mexican boleros, which surprised everybody because Graham had a reputation as a classical musician. A year later, they added a violinist and Classico Latino went on but they never meant it to continue beyond university.
As chance would have it, Graham entered the Royal Academy of Music and Ivan moved to London so together, they started touring their Classico Latino repertoire in Switzerland, in France, and received an invitation to play at the Opera House (el Teatro Colón) in Bogota. The emotional response in Colombia and wherever they performed in Latin America was absolutely amazing.
Nobody had ever heard of a British group playing traditional Latin American music. In 2013, they recorded an album at Abbey Road Studios with various musicians, including The Gentlemen of St John’s who came from Cambridge to record two boleros in Spanish. To date, they have recorded five albums.
The side-hustle: Today
Recently, they decided to move from ambient music to Caribbean music. In Havana, the famous EGREM Studios were as glamorous for music as Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro and were revived in 1997 by Buena Vista Social Club. EGREM took Classico Latino to record an album called Havana Classic (which you can find everywhere, including on Spotify).
Their project was to play and record artists such as Omar Puente (as guest violin player, and iconic Cuban composers and performers such as Ernesto Lecuona, or Celia Cruz. They had to rehearse for four months solid to learn Cuban rhythms, which are incredibly rich. In the end, Graham could translate the spontaneous joy of improvised Latin American music into a music score. At El Teatro Colón, they convinced superstar violinists Alfredo de la Fe to play Cuban music with Omar Puente on stage for the launch of the Cuban album.
Looking back, Ivan confides that after that lunch in Cambridge, that little moment, determined that he was going to do music professionally. “I have had no choice but to have a double life ever since – weekends busy doing music, week days busy being a lawyer. Life put me in different places, it was not so much a choice.”
Achieving a work-life balance as a senior lawyer with a side-hustle
When Ivan started working with law firms, Ivan found that they loved the fact that he was a musician. Very often, they offered to sponsor his concerts, inviting their clients to a concert whose main act was a member of their firm.
Also, they offered Ivan free holidays so that he could tour the world and perform at concerts. At a global telecommunications company at the end of a legal team meeting, they were talking about little things when the Head of Legal said that someone on the team was a concert pianist and showed a video clip of Ivan during the meeting.
Never before had Ivan realised the power of music for marketing and networking.
“Tomorrow,” Ivan goes on, “I am going to play for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Music from home’. I’ll rehearse tonight after finishing my day tomorrow’s programme. After a long day at work, playing the piano relaxes me.”
“Balancing career and passion has been a challenge but I have been lucky.”
What are the advantages of working as a freelance lawyer with a side-hustle?
If you are a freelance lawyer and you have work (not always a given when you are a freelancer), you can manage your own portfolio of legal work and your performing arts. You can organise your life the way you want to develop your passion and your dream. Being the master of our time and most importantly, being the master of your own priorities in life, are great advantages.
To Ivan, music has provided so much colour to the dull, grey life of being a lawyer.Very often, Ivan checks his music contracts and makes them change things. People are shocked, as musicians very rarely do that but in his case, one thing complements the other.
What are the biggest challenges of balancing career and passion?
The challenge is when people worry about not having enough funding. The balancing act of funding a passion is difficult because passions don’t give the financial returns of professional careers. For Ivan, his passion is an expenditure but he sees it as an investment. When people have money to spare, what do they spend their money on? Some people spend it on cars or on wine but if you are lucky to have a passion, it’s the best way to spend your money.
What does the rest of 2020 have in store?
Classico Latino were supposed to tour the US but it was postponed. They have been busy doing lockdown videos online and Ivan is going to be recording a Christmas concert online, and will pre-record the concert in a church, for which people can buy tickets to attend the concert virtually. They will be offered through Classico Latino’s social media channels – Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter – in early December 2020.
Ivan is also hoping to develop more of his advice in sustainable development and carbon emission trading forestry.
What advice do you have for young or junior lawyers who want side-hustles?
To people with an artistic skill, Ivan advises to become the best lawyer they can be so that the music can happen. They will eventually retire from being a lawyer but the music will never stop. If something happens like Covid, the music will still be there for them. By never compromising their passion and feeding it, lawyers can keep it to have a private life.
“Life put me in different places, it was not so much a choice.”
Follow Ivan on social media
You can follow Ivan’s musical projects and events on:
- Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/classicolatino
- Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/classicolatino/
- YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/classicolatino/videos
- Twitter at https://twitter.com/classicolatino
- Spotify at https://open.spotify.com/artist/4Hh8oUa3qLcmI3qHp6jNfX
- Apple Music at https://music.apple.com/gb/album/havana-classic/1478739937?app=music&ign-mpt=uo%3D4