Q&A with Leigh Ann Hirschman: Passion is the thread connecting her career

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Leigh Ann Hirschman American Pianists Association director of advancement (Photo courtesy of Leigh Ann Hirschman)

Leigh Ann Hirschman ran her own book development company, Hirschman Literary Services, for more than two decades. She helped found and lead Indiana’s first LGBT youth housing program, Trinity Haven. Now, she’s returning to her roots as a classically trained pianist, as a development leader at the American Pianists Association.

Are all those roles as unrelated as they seem at first glance?

When you put it like that, it seems like a career with twists and turns. From my perspective, all of these pursuits have common themes, and that’s communication and connection.

What do you love about those?

I loved piano music as a kid, but I had another love, and that was reading. I was one of those kids who fell over benches—and I literally have broken bones—because I was never watching where I was going. I was always, always reading.

A constant throughout my life has been the desire to be involved, to work with words and sentences, paragraphs and chapters. And that, I think, is where an interest in communication comes from.

Connection is something that came to me a little later in life. I discovered, while working in book publishing, how much I enjoy being around authors, around people who had the most interesting stories to tell. I loved listening to them and helping them tell their stories.

You’ve worked on books about really varied topics: chronic pain, relationships and organizational change. How?

What I brought to my book projects was ignorance. I teamed up with an expert, and I would ask the kinds of questions that I thought readers would want to have answers to. … I would find myself asking questions such as, “What is a cell?” “What is marriage therapy?” “Why would an organization want to change?”

Even on these really basic matters, my authors might sometimes share a surprising perspective that was uniquely their own, and I loved those moments.

How and why did you get involved with Trinity Haven?

The “how” was driven by the “why.” Trinity Episcopal Church, where I am a parishioner, learned about the invisible crisis of LGBTQ youth homelessness in our city, and it resolved to use its resources to do something about it.

There was a moment when, if no one stepped up to lead Trinity Haven, it was not going to survive, and we were not going to be able to provide housing. So, even though I’m a white, straight, cisgender woman—even though, at the time, I really didn’t have any background in housing issues—I found myself in a leadership role. I was very lucky to be surrounded by volunteers and staff who were experts. We built a board and staff that was almost entirely LGBTQ. I made it a personal mission to stay in leadership until I could responsibly hand it over to people whose identity reflects the youth that we serve.

What’s your background with piano and how’d you end up back in the industry?

I began classical piano and organ lessons when I was 7, and it became clear to me, probably by high school, that I didn’t have what it takes to become a professional musician. But I still loved it. And I took it seriously. I continued studying and taking piano performance classes all the way through college.

Now that I’m with the American Pianists Association, I’m really hoping that I will be inspired to get back on the bench. … I feel as if it’s an opportunity for a fresh adventure, and it’s a way to come back home.•

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