Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Would Mr. Gould Do?

What a chaotic season! I have been so busy with my work at the Foundation, holiday plans, shopping, card signing, baking...I have a hunch that as soon as I beat a cold, someone else passes a new one on to me, leading to the perpetual illness. I cannot wait for the holidays, where I will sit with my family and army of cats (My mother kindly allows me to bring my two critters home to visit with her cats) and do absolutely nothing. What a dream..

No time for the dream yet...Here I am, at the brink of losing my sanity, when the thought occurred to me, What would Mr. Gould do? In a flash of brilliance, I open my browser. I know what Mr. Gould would do. I slowly type in "P-e-t-u-l-a C-l-a-r-k y-o-u-t-u-b-e"

I watch with what only can be described as glee. Somehow I understand exactly why Mr. Gould loved Petula Clark. She is delightful. She is classy. Her dancers are suave and classic, not to mention amusing. I can feel my spirits being lifted.

I should forget all my troubles, forget all my cares. I am downtown. Things will be great!

EPILOGUE: Instead of worrying, in moments of silence, all that is going through my head is "When you're alone and life is making you lonely.." Not for all, but I have embraced it.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

What to get for Mr. Pianossisimo for X’mas 2008?

In 14 days into Christmas, I know about what to get for Mr. Pianossisimo, my piano teacher, for Christmas. Mr Pianossisimo is a Chopin fan. I have an idea about a gift. Can you guess?

Here are the hints:

1. This thingy is already out of stock in Luckily, Ms. Mommy Bach placed the order before it is out-of-stock. She is always so fast :) When Ms. Mommy Bach plays piano, her rhythm is always faster than needed. :)

2. We have two serious issues about this gift.

o The prints on this thingy are very small. Ms. Mommy Bach cannot read without her reading glass. She said they should have printed everything at least this big in consideration for Ms. Mommy Bach’s generation and beyond.

o This thingy takes foooooorever to upload entirely to my laptop. After that, then comes another long session of trying to figure out how to download from my laptop to my iPod Nano. Just as when you think you are done, Apple© upgrades its iPod Nano to the iPod Touch. And so, I need to spend many more long boring hours uploading from my iPod Nano to my laptop (again) and back again to the iPod Touch. Ms. Mommy Bach got indefinitely infuriated. Now that Apple© is releasing iPhone. Ms. Mommy Bach promises that she won’t buy me the iPhone for sure – to save my time L I wish there is an iPhone pre-loaded with this thingy. I am sure it would make a good Christmas gift for all of us. Maybe I need to write “A Letter to Mr. Sony Classics”, this time as a product suggestion. Where should I send the letter this time? He probably does not know we kids these days are spending more time on laptops uploading and downloading music than doing homework. For classical music students, it is even worse. We have to practice, go to few lessons a week, do musicianship homework, play chamber music …etc.

If you can read backwards, you know what this ‘ygniht’ is :)

“noitcelloC tekacJ lanigirO etelpmoC ehT : doulG nnelG”

hcaB .sM :)

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Monday, December 08, 2008

a snowy surprise, a well-mannered storm

My cats are viciously attacking me. Why won't you let me sleep?!? My alarm clock loudly blares. All hopes of falling back to sleep are lost. I look out my window and discover a snow covered roof. That does not bode well for my trek to work. I climb out of bed. I am so cold. I walk to the bathroom. The toilet overflows. This is clearly not my day.

With the first big snowfall, the subway is packed. I stand with my elbows tucked in tightly at my sides. Stop by stop, the car pushes past capacity. The many scents meld together to create one smothering situation. I arrive at the Foundation in a less than perfect mood and throw myself into my chair. A little brown package catches my eye. A present? For me? I tear open the wrappings. "A Well-Mannered Storm: The Glenn Gould Poems" by Kate Braid. Inside is a little card: "Hi Liz: Enjoy! xo Aunt Ro" Quickly all my struggles are forgotten. What a nice surprise on a cold and snowy day.

Fast Forward: two weeks later...I have finished the book. A Well-Mannered Storm consists of an imagined exchange between Mr. Gould and an admiring fan named "k." Mr. Gould does not answer k directly; instead his responses are expressed through poems capturing his spirit from childhood to old age.

Having forgotten about the lost art of poetry, I enjoyed rekindling my love affair with this unique take on Mr. Gould. (I used to be a master writer of angst-filled poems back in high school. You didn't want to scorn me!) I enjoyed the unique concept but I suspect much was lost on me. Perhaps it was too soon in my quest to know Mr. Gould for such an abstract piece. Perhaps I lack the musical knowledge needed to fully appreciate all of the references and nuances.

What I did understand was how absolutely human and relatable Mr. Gould was (and is) to his adoring fans. k. is going through a challenging time with the loss of hearing in one ear. She is comforted by Mr. Gould in such a strange and beautiful manner. He seems capable of establishing an almost intimate relationship, through his music, through his mannerisms, through his words, with total strangers. That is power. That is beauty.

I might need to revisit this book after I have further honed my skills. True to my own strange personality, after finishing the book, I am stuck on one thought... how did Mr. Gould manage to have a non-deodorized pet skunk!?! I want to know more.
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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hello, Glenn? Let me get my notepad...

Last year the Luminato Festival in Toronto presented a one-man play that brought to light an aspect of Glenn Gould's life I'd never really considered before. An Evening with Glenn Gould, written by John McGreevy, centres on a single evening of his life, in particular, his last one. McGreevy, who had collaborated with Gould on the documentary, Glenn Gould's Toronto (it is in this program that Gould in his wonderfully articulate and matter-of-fact fashion, riffs on the dubious delights of the CNE), recalled his final conversation with Gould, citing his conviction that there was no sense of prescience of his own death as he spoke. A review of the play written by critic William Littler, at the time of the staging of the play, cites McGreevy's close association with Glenn. "...I was one of those who received late night phone calls from him. In order to keep myself awake I started taking notes and found them a couple of years ago when moving house. My script draws heavily on Glenn's own words."
What utterly fascinates me is McGreevy's note-taking. How he managed it. Whether much of it is word for word. What was inevitably left out. What struck him as significant or not. I have no doubt that it would have been easy to quietly sit there jotting away while Glenn waxed loquaciously about one thing or another. It seems to me that in most interview clips he enjoyed talking, and in talking, he tried to set it right (or occasionally, have someone on). And in the end what you have can only be what anyone can know of another soul -- shards and bits and scraps, the combination of which cannot make the complete picture. Can you hold up a piece and say it is a symbol of the man? What of all the natural, hapless contradictions that make up a human being?
As for the aspect of Glenn's life that never really occurred to me, there is an incident in the play which I assume is based on truth. A persistent female admirer, initially a seemingly harmless fan, begins to call him. The excellent actor, Ted Dykstra, who played Glenn in this production, seems magnanimous and kind at first, then starts to grow suspicious and even slightly unhinged as the caller presses her point, insisting on a meeting; he is threatened, not with harm but with her avowal to do away with herself if she does not manage to meet him. And it occurs to me that this aspect of fame must have terrified him, not only in terms of the invasion of his privacy and self-imposed isolation but as an example of the desperation and unpredictability of human interaction.
I've just noticed something. Since I have been thinking and writing about Glenn Gould, he has become increasingly human to me and more so Glenn than Glenn Gould.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

How do you Fugue when you play the Feel?

I am going to Maryland the week after Thanksgiving to participate in a Bach documentary by Michael Lawrence Films. I am very excited :) Guess what ? Ms Mommy Bach is even more excited. But she is not going to be on the film :)

Bach = Humanity vs. Bach ≠ Humanity

Every artist in the film talks about the above equation. Is this infinite equality? Or finite inequality? I don’t know what to say about Humanity. I want to talk about the feeling when playing a Fugue.

Mr. Harpossisimo, my harpsichord teacher, asked me the question when I first started my Bach project two years ago – “How do you feel when you play the Fugue?”

At that time, I felt like it was a mission to keep Mr. Mario (from Super Mario) alive by giving him 1-ups and those jumbo mushrooms. It was very exciting and a breath-taking exercise.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Pianossisimo, my piano teacher, asked me the same question after I finished playing a complicated fugue.

“It feels like chasing a lot of people in a maze. They start together and separate into their own tracks. I have to turn round and round. Sometimes I hit a dead-end and have to come out again and turn again. It is very exciting, exhausting. I have to keep finding all the ways around the maze looking for all the people. I have to try every track. At the end, they all re-unite at the end of this complicated maze and I am relieved I do not lose any of them!”

I wonder how Glenn Gould feels when he plays a fugue. Did Mr. Gould ever answer this question?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Visit with Glenn via YouTube

YouTube is my secret little indulgence. Since I have no access to television, people assume that I occupy myself with all sorts of productive activities -- such as practising Hanon dutifully on the piano.
But today I have just spent upwards of an hour surfing the myriad offerings on YouTube. Among them, a delicious variety of videos of Glenn Gould -- at work and at play on the Steinway and the dear old Chickering, holding court thoughtfully as he does during interviews, in occasionally mischievous discussion with other musicians, walking with his beloved dog, Banquo.
One of the pieces I return to again and again is a short clip of him at the Chickering in the cottage on Lake Simcoe, playing Bach's Partita No. 2 in C minor. Here he is a relatively young man, hardly looking out of his teens with fine cheekbones and almost gangling limbs. He has already adopted some of the mannerisms he will become known for -- the singalong tendencies, conducting himself, indifference to dress (he appears to be in a housecoat).
But, oh the absorption, the intense study, the nearly complete morphing of man with music. I suppose one might suspect Glenn of ham-fisted performance in the most obvious sense of the word -- he gets up abruptly from the keyboard in the middle of a frenetic passage and walks to the window, contemplating its execution with his unself-conscious muttering of the rhythm and immediately returns to the piano as if there had been not the slightest nanosecond of a pause. Had he been planning this one all along? Certainly Glenn was known for his delight in playing fictitious personas, replete with terrible accents. However, in spite of the fact that he would have been quite aware of a camera lens following his every move and scrutinizing each sniff and warble, I don't believe you make music as he did without stepping into its notes and rests and bar lines.
This film clip, part of a documentary that probably helped create the myth of Glenn Gould the Solitary, perhaps unwittingly touches on Glenn Gould the Ordinary Fellow. There is a teacup on the piano. The dog yawns as he lies near his master. The fluttering shadows of leaves outside the cottage on a sun-baked day is memory itself -- bleached, singularly another time in our lost consciousness.
It is always the way with Glenn Gould; one beholds his playing and is heartened while wistfully wondering if he ever knew contentment.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Diners &c.

Since writing last time about the impossibility of visiting Glenn Gould's Toronto, this article appeared in the EYE Weekly covering the disappearance of local diners in the city and their replacement by more generic eateries. The article generated a predictable response a week later when one modern Torontonian wondered (rhetorically) why anyone would miss such places now that we can go for falafel, rhoti, empanada, or whatever, on our lunch breaks. The response was so predictable because it clearly represents the prevailing sentiment that the old-fashioned diner is a vestige of the "bad old days" and that the sooner we can be rid of these relics the better.

Well, if all you can get at such establishments is fare like "a broiled turkey sandwich with powdered gravy on Wonder Bread" as the letter writer claims, then I would agree that perhaps there are few reasons to lament their passing. (Although I'll bet that GG would think: "broiled turkey . . . powdered gravy . . . Wonder Bread . . . sounds delicious!") But I know I've had better meals than that at various diners around town.

Now, because I am on a budget tighter than the rusted lug-nuts on a '57 DeSoto (to quote Dan Rather), I don't eat out much. But over the next three weeks, as a public service, I will be re-visiting some local establishments to report on the food, service, and general ambiance. I plan to go on Thursdays, since by that point in the week my enthusiasm for preparing dinner tends to be a little low. If I can borrow a camera, I'll take some pictures. If anyone wants to join me let me know. If I determine that you make more money than I do, then the bill is on you. Just kidding. Maybe.

Finally, if you live in another place and really do want to visit "Glenn Gould's Toronto" to whatever extent it is still possible to do so, then I should point out that the best time to visit is between now (November) and early April. There is no point coming here during the other months.
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

First Page of my project


Let’s solve Bach’s music using our imagination!

Dear Readers,

Do you have a love for the music of Bach? The answer for most people, especially young musicians, would be a ‘no’. I play Bach on the harpsichord and piano. I would like to change the fact that most people are turned away from Bach, or have never even heard his music. I intend to bring Bach to everyone, all over the world. I want to bring Bach to all the kids who haven’t heard of his music or played it before. His music not only brings “happiness”, but also a sense of compassion. My goal is to start a series of i ♥√Bach concerts to the globe. I just hope that you all enjoy it!

Ms. Bach :) September 2, 2007

* it reads – ‘i’ times the ‘love’th root of Bach

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An introduction to Mr. Gould the radio artist

When you work somewhere like The Glenn Gould Foundation and when you are on a quest to get acquainted with Mr. Gould, it is often challenging to decide where to go next. I walk over to the shelves, my eyes glancing over the numerous book titles. Yes, Kevin Bazzana's Wondrous Strange, that is on my to-do list. I am not quite ready to commit. After reading all but the final novel, I have decided to finish the Harry Potter series. I am currently too involved for Kevin. My eyes move on to the CD section.

"Glenn Gould the radio artist." My attention is caught. I choose "The Quiet in the Land" and pop it into my computer. I have always been interested in the Mennonite community. I took a history course on the subject while in university and grew up in a rural area where I often encountered this isolated society. When I was little, whenever we passed by a buggy or some young lads on bicycles, my dad and I used to try and track and give meaning to the different types of hats and bonnets that we would see. A little random but a lovely childhood memory nonetheless!

I listen. I love his contrapuntal style. It is full and captivating. The way Mr. Gould pairs spoken word and intellectual thought with soundscapes and music is incredible. Being a country girl in the city, I can relate to many of Mr. Gould's sentiments about solitude. I sometimes find it challenging to live in the city, so close to so many. The amount of consumption is startling. I like to have nice possessions but I make an effort to draw some sort of line before excess. I miss having a strong sense of community but I love the freedom and anonymity that the city provides.

The more I listen, the deeper I fall in love with his style of documentary. It is powerful and soothing while disseminating interesting ideas. The Mennonites' sense of the world is thought provoking. "95% of the television programs are not worth watching," the documentary states. Why have a television set? I agree with Mr. Gould's fascination with solitude. Why do some people crave the city, living in such close proximity to many others? Why do others prefer to be left alone?

I love the hymns and choral music. I don't find the documentary to be pushy; more so descriptive and informative. "To be a Christ-follower means to be concerned for the total well being of the next person." I am not religious yet I find myself wondering how my values align with the bible. More importantly, what does all of this tell me about Mr. Gould?

Mr. Gould's concluding predictions about the future of Mennonite society were insightful, especially considering that he never lived to see today's 21st century society. I enjoyed the documentary and am excited about experiencing more of his work. It is unlike anything that I have experienced. Mr. Gould, you did it again. I am left wanting more.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Taking the children out for a walk

The left hand continues to do battle with the right hand.
Or perhaps, more accurately, I am doing battle with both. They are like a couple of recalcitrant children, wanting to go their own ways. If that wasn't trying enough, each brings its own temperament to the keyboard. The right hand, smugly content in having the melody most of the time and getting the most attention by the mere fact that I am right-handed, smirks as I play a passage in the left hand endlessly. Look, it's like this, the neurons are telling it, trying to keep exasperation from taking over; there you go, you separated those notes very nicely -- no, you joined them AGAIN! Try it again...
Still with the Couperin; surprisingly, it hasn't killed my love for the baroque period. But training the left hand to be independent, to NOT do what the right hand is doing, is getting to be a questionable pursuit. Is it possible at age 53 to reclaim a dubious mastery of baroque technique shoddily managed more than a decade and a half ago? I say shoddily managed because unlike many adults, I did not learn piano as a child. My parents offered piano lessons to my three siblings, but, strangely, not to me. Perhaps they were wiser than I gave them credit for.
It was as an idealistic parent of young children that I seized upon the idea of learning piano (properly), along with my 6-year-old. Never mind that she was destined to surpass me. For a few years, anyway, I could lord my sonatinas over her Twinkle variations. Besides, piano teachers patiently look the other way when adult beginners never reach the suggested M.M. of a piece. They understand that adults often operate under a fog.
So for the nth time, I attempt an outing with the left and right hands. They start off all right, happy creatures enjoying one another's company for the first few bars. Then it happens. The left hand starts to join its notes; I stop and scold. It responds by doing what it wants and starts to not only join all the notes but slurring them as well. Going for broke.
It isn't fair. I have practised. It has worked out. The left hand and right hand have sometimes been quite companionable. To quote Glenn:
"It's true that I've driven through a number of red lights, but on the other hand I've stopped at a lot of green ones."
Glenn, you the man.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Visiting Glenn Gould's Toronto? I'm sorry, that train has left.

Glenn Gould was a life-long Torontonian by choice. He had no desire to live anywhere else. And yet, according to Kevin Bazzana, very few authors mention Toronto in any significant way when writing about Gould. Bazzana argues that to miss the influence of Toronto is to miss something essential to Gould's character. That seems exactly right to me.

One of the reasons that GG was and continues to be so interesting to so many people is that, personally, he seemed so radically different from other internationally renowned artists; his puritanical disposition and persistently provincial tastes presented as a little bit odd. But, to long-time Torontonians, it all kind of makes sense. Bazzana does a great job of explaining this in his book so, if you're interested in the specifics, check it out.

I never saw Glenn Gould in person, but he's been around as part of the general Toronto "background radiation" for as long as I can remember. He was on TV regularly, on the radio a lot, and was a sort of general "man about town"—if by "about town" you mean low-key diners around Yonge & St. Clair or College Street in the middle of the night. My dad remembers Gould from high school (Malvern Collegiate) and my mom shared an elevator with him once (she recognized him by the overcoat, gloves, etc. in July). Today there is a Glenn Gould Studio, two Glenn Gould "parkettes", Gould's piano sits in the foyer of Roy Thomson Hall, and so on.

The prevalence of Glenn Gould "sites" around town is the source of some degree of international "Gould Tourism." A number of fans are keen to visit "Glenn Gould's Toronto." And it is certainly true that you can still go to a number of specific physical places that GG would have been familiar with, or known intimately. But, unless you can devise a way to travel through time, it is impossible to visit Glenn Gould's Toronto. The place is long gone.

This has little to do with what buildings are still standing or serving their original functions. The specific character of the city: sober, circumspect, grey, industrious, Protestant, provincial . . . uhhh let's see, what else can we throw in there? . . . dour, private, Church-going, Victorian/Edwardian, uhh did we already say grey? . . . anyway, that's mostly gone now, replaced by more modern, vibrant, multi-cultural, World-Class, blah, blah, blah.

Now, if you were flying in from say, Rio, you might say "Christoff, what are you talking about? This Toronto place is exactly as dismal now as you claim it was in the past." And, at least from that perspective, you may be right. But, seriously, if you weren't around before the 1970's, you have no idea of how much the place has changed.

Nine out of ten Torontonians will tell you that things are better now that we don't have to drive to Buffalo for something exciting to do on the weekend. Gould, of course, would have been that tenth guy—preferring the city when, as Northrop Frye put it, it was "a good place to mind your own business." Certainly something of the city's old soul seems to have been lost, and I find that regrettable, even if it was the soul of a Victorian spinster. Science fiction author William Gibson actually captures it well here.

Over the next few posts I'll try my best to find, if not some places, then at least some "situations" that might give you a feel for the Hogtown of yore. If you're into that sort of thing. You might start by renting this Canadian Classic movie. Maybe this one too.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the last day of the 'Year of Glenn Gould',

Ms. Bach made a speech in the Library of Congress in Washington DC in United States. Ms. Bach felt like a Congress-woman :)


Dear all,

I am very happy and honored to come here today to receive the Davidson Fellowship award. It feels like a ... Grammy award for... kids!

My project is called 'I Love Bach'. My goal is to share the complexity and joy of Bach's music with the world, especially my generation of classical music students. I personally find Bach's music intriguing and challenging. For all kids who know what Nintendo is, playing Bach is really like trying to keep Super Mario alive all the time. It's a breath-taking exercise.

I personally find that the process of learning Bach's music can keep me focused and helps me to train my mind to think analytically in many subject areas.

My dream is to start a series of 'I love Bach' concerts across the country and around the globe so that more classical students of this generation can share this joy and appreciate Bach's music!

I want to thank my teachers, my parents for all these years of support and coaching, and lastly to Mr. Glenn Gould, my favorite pianist, for giving me the inspiration to start this 'I Love Bach' project. And mostly, I wish to thank the Davidson Institute for all they do for us kids with dreams and ideas.

Today happens to the last day for the 'Year of the Glenn Gould', as declared by the Glenn Gould Foundation, in memory of his 75th birthday and 25th anniversary after he died.

I hope all of you will go home tonight and download one piece of Bach's music to your iPod to help me with my mission of sharing Bach to everyone.

Thank you

For those who ask Ms. Bach which piece of Bach music to download, please download the 1955 version of the Goldberg Variations from Mr. Gould. This is the highest recommendation from Ms. Bach :)

September 24, 2008

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Hands Separately

I am learning to play
"It Might As Well Be Spring"
but my left hand would rather be jingling
the change in the darkness of my pocket
or taking a nap on an armrest.
I have to drag him into the music
like a difficult and neglected child.
This is the revenge of the one who never gets
to hold the pen or wave good-bye,
and now, who never gets to play the melody.

-from "Piano Lessons" by Billy Collins

The left hand. Stubborn, sulky, even diabolical. My mother used to consider it the weak sister, destined never to be the equal of the right; using a left hand to hold a pitcher full of milk or a boiling kettle was courting disaster. You never knew what the left hand would do. In its caprice, it could suddenly collapse.

But playing baroque piano pieces pulls the left hand out of its torpor and gives the lethargic child a sense of purpose. All of a sudden the left hand is thrown bits and shards of the melody (without warning, as it were) and it is now required to be absolutely at the ready. I've got it! it cries and in a Charlie Brown moment, it utterly misses and turns the stately, logical run of notes into a jarring cacophony, as if Bach has just channelled R. Murray Schaefer.

When I play, hands separately (as strongly advised in the first tentative days of sussing out the piece), the left hand is a smooth operator, able to con me into thinking I have it. It executes its pianistic triple axels and salchows confidently and gives me reason to believe it is truly independent, set on its right path. The right hand (which has always picked things up more easily, breezing through the accidentals, thumb ducking under the index ever so expertly) enters the picture and all is chaos once more. Resentfully, the right hand drops out to allow for intensive remediation of the left hand. It dutifully goes through its paces. I wonder how many times the members of my family can stand listening to the same eight bars over and over again.

Glenn has spoiled me. I listen to him execute the left hand of any one of the Goldberg Variations and the Idea of the Left Hand is fairly imprinted on my brain. Its precise dance on the keys is confident, joyful, deliberate, triumphant. I should be depressed but I am not. Listen to the celebrant left hand, always hitting its mark but never having to look for it.

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Can you connect-the-dots?

My first day of work at the Foundation was on August 11th. In addition to the exciting new addition of Liz Murray, in the newly created position of fundraising administrator, the Foundation was also moving to a new downtown home. After four years of constant relocation as a co-op student, I have developed a slight aversion to the act of moving. Luckily, Brian and I decided that they would move on Friday, unpack all weekend and I would start on Monday in a brand new functioning workspace.

Of course, as with most moves, we were overly optimistic about how long it would take to get up and running again. I arrived at work to find that the furniture had been delayed; therefore nothing could be unpacked. Under the mountains of boxes, I tried to orient myself.

Over the month of August, great progress was made. Shelves were built and lined with our vast collection of Gould books, CDs and videos. Files were sorted and given a proper home. Artwork and pictures were hung ever so carefully. To inspire hard work, I even took a particularly stern picture of Mr. Gould and placed it over my desk.

Quickly, september arrived and I still felt as if I had barely broken the ice with Mr. Gould. It could have been my heavy conscience playing tricks on me, but I could have sworn that Mr. Gould was starting to give me dirty looks from his place above my desk! What perfect timing for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to bring Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould out of the vault. This was my first time seeing the film. Somehow, I had developed this preconceived notion in my head that it was like I Shot Andy Warhol but for piano lovers. This was also my first time taking part in a TIFF screening. I was excited!

There were two theatres screening the film: both reasonably full, a mix of old and young, male and female. I sat back and watched. I was captivated. Colm Feore as Mr. Gould was so intriguing and enigmatic yet so human and likeable. What appealed to me most about Mr. Gould was his sense of humour and dry wit. The interviews with people who knew him were touching. I nearly cried at how sweet his piano tuner was or his cousin, Jessie.

The use of his music was beautiful whether it was featured centre stage or just in the background. The film was like a collage. Just giving me little snippets of a central theme. I learned a lot about Mr. Gould. For example, I was not aware of his use of prescription drugs or even how he soaked his hands in boiling water before performances (I know, I know! I already admitted that I did not know anything about him in my first post!)

In the back of mind, I kept thinking what is the truth? What is just part of the film? There were so many things to think about! His idea of north, the contrapuntal truck stop, stock tips, the pills, the afterlife... In the Q&A session following the screening, Director, Francois Girard stated that the film was meant to "evoke not describe." It certainly did the trick. Like a connect-the-dot puzzle, it is up to me to make the picture.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Slouching towards perfection

My first piano lesson in nearly a decade began inauspiciously.
"You're sitting far too close to the piano," the teacher points out immediately, noting that my fingers are touching nearly the tops of the black keys.
"But I can't sit any further back," I whine like a petulant child, at the ready with flimsy excuses.
She ignores my protest and comments instead on the flatness of my fingers."You need to curve your fingers," she suggests.
"But Glenn Gould always --"
I get The Look, a well-honed disciplinary tool perfected by the great majority of piano teachers. It is one of the Essentials at Piano Teacher School. Trying to invoke the name of Glenn Gould to defend one's atrocious posture at the keyboard is nothing less than presumptuous. Hunched over in a very low chair built by his father, Glenn Gould's nose appeared to hover over the keys. It seems that he completely disregarded the rules of piano posture and very likely caused unnecessary strain and pain to his neck and back. Whether the insistence on sitting to play as if you were Mister Magoo was borne of superstition or mere habit doesn't really matter. I get a perverse pleasure out of knowing that he got away with it. Rule-breaking in piano playing is highly satisfying as Glenn must have found out again and again. His many ground-breaking and unconventional interpretations of old chestnuts are proof positive.
Meanwhile, I adjust the distance between bench and piano, hold my fingers as if clutching a tiny ball and try not to curse or apologize out loud every time I hit a wrong note (see previous blog). Glenn, I don't pretend to be in your company but I'm with you. If you can't sit up straight, slouch proudly.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bounce back!

Ms Bach’s last email to Mr. Gould bounced back. :(

Mr. Gould was still concertizing in 1964. The Glenn Gould Foundation has not formed yet. Ms Mommy Bach said she forgot to tell Ms. Bach. She’s always like that. :(

Ms. Bach ended up writing a letter to Mr. Gould. The letter stopped in Boston in United States where they have great lobsters and the great “FromTheTop” people ( It then got re-routed to PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) in United States before it reached the Glenn Gould Foundation in Toronto, Canada. It took such a long way to send a letter. Sigh!

Share and enjoy! :)

Mr. Gould really needed a Facebook account to share his thinking, compositions, music, documentaries and all those ingenious presentations. Then we all can communicate using 21st century technology. ‘The’ Facebook :)

Ms. Bach Nov 17, 2007 :)

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Friday, October 31, 2008

The Tangential Approach to Glenn Gould

Since confirming, last post, that Glenn Could is the most written-about pianist ever, I want to avoid, as far as I can, writing about any aspects of Gould's life that have already been extensively written-up. But, since the details of everything from GG's Arrowroot-cookie & milk habit, to his peculiar musical philosophies, to his Steve McQueen-like driving, have been covered to death and are easily accessible, you might think that I would have little left to write about.

But I agree with what Gould said in this 1974 interview with himself:
G.G.: . . . my personal philosophy of interviewing . . . is that the most illuminating disclosures derive from areas only indirectly related to the interviewee's line of work.
g.g.: For example?
G.G.: Well, for example, in the course of preparing radio documentaries, I've interviewed a theologian about technology, a surveyor about William James, an economist about pacifism, and a housewife about acquisitiveness in the art market.
If you approach the subject with this disposition, then a whole new range of topics emerges. And that's what I intend to do.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Our first encounter

Like many others before me, my first introduction to Mr. Gould was through his 1981 Goldberg Variations. Although I would never claim to be a musician, I do feel that I know the basics and have definitely developed an appreciation over the years. As a child, my mother tried to force- feed piano lessons to me. First, we tried Suzuki lessons. I mastered the Twinkles but in the end, it always came down to my lack of will to practice. I already had such a busy schedule to maintain consisting of playing with the barn cats, swimming in the pool or climbing apple trees! My mother was persistent (or perhaps a little blinded by love). She thought to herself, "It could not possibly be Liz. It must be the lessons." So we switched to the Conservatory way. While I still did not enjoy spending my afternoons practicing, I was a good daughter and withstood for about a year.

My piano career ended with the local music festival. I have vivid childhood memories of practicing my little heart out, preparing for the big day. My debut piece was called "Mixed Up Zoo." I am still traumatized 13 years later. "My cow goes meeeeow but I don't think that's right..." Long story short, I lost the competition and retired from piano forever. Looking back, I like to soothe my burnt ego by thinking of myself as practicing the ideals of Mr. Gould at the tender age of eleven. 

Music was not completely lost on me. Every summer, I looked forward to attending the Kincardine Summer Music Festival. I began to play the trumpet in grade six (even got back on the old music festival horse!). In high school, I switched to French Horn for logistical reasons. There were too many trumpet players and too few chairs, stands and instruments. Plus I didn't think I had the trumpet player personality. I was better suited to the horn.  After I graduated, I stopped playing. Never fear, returning to my beloved French horn (or perhaps learning to play the cello) is on my forever growing to-do list. 

Like I said, I am not a musician by any means, but I do have a general background. After accepting the job at the Foundation, I immediately took a trip to my local iTunes store and purchased the Goldberg Variations. I listened to the album carefully from start to finish.

Mr. Gould shared something very special with me. The album was almost reminiscent to my life. I am me. I play the same baseline but the outcome is somehow always varied and full of surprise. A series of highs and lows. Sometimes jovial, sometimes sad. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes playful, sometimes stern. Sometimes full, sometimes lonely. But in the end, in life and the Goldberg Variations, it all comes full circle. 

I was unaware of Mr. Gould's tendency to sing along while playing. It took me a few listens to even notice. Mr. Gould was different. It was all so very intriguing. It was all so delightfully human. I can understand why Mr. Gould loved the Goldberg Variations. 

I am left with a smile. How beautiful! Mr. Gould lived his music. 

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Shall we talk?

I have listened to Glenn Gould's later recording of the Goldberg Variations so many times that I am quite sure I could identify his interpretation in a blind taste test.
But wait, I flatter myself. Perhaps I recognize it as his not because of the infamously lingering pace of the Aria but could it be the tell-tale murmur alongside the notes?
It was said that recording technicians despaired of Gould's tendency to sing along as he played. They were actually described as "groans and croons." Sound technicians were sometimes only partially successful in excising his trilling.
I confess I rather like it. I have even turned up my ipod to full volume in an effort to catch every nuance of Glenn's vocalise. It seems to me, wholly unself-conscious, evidence that he was captivated by Bach but still reverential of the exquisite spaces. The intoning doesn't ruin the performance the least bit. In fact, it's comforting. This is a human being rendering those beautiful sounds and that fact makes its beauty all the more astonishing.
Some years ago in my earlier incarnation as a piano student, I was forced to take part in a recital. I was the only adult playing, a fact that was burnished on my very soul as I sat looking nervously at the other draftees. Two of them were my own. They sat there in the church pew, alternately chewing fingernails and glaring at their mother, the one who was making them play. Little did they realize that I was also glaring resentfully -- at the piano teacher who suggested that I participate to send the message to the kids that there was nothing to fear at a recital. Nothing indeed!
My number came up.
I strode up with music in hand (no memory work for me -- I wasn' t that crazy). The piece I had chosen was a dumbed down version of "St. James' Infirmary."
From the first uncertain notes I set down to the last querulous chord, this jazz classic was treated with an unconventional accompaniment -- mutterings inserted by no editorial musicologist. Just a litany of anguished noises, mumbled apologies and scarcely articulated curses.
I met the gaze of a supportive friend as I escaped from the piano bench.
"As long as you're playing, " he sighed, "Glenn Gould will never be dead."
Somehow I knew that he wasn't talking about the grace or sensitivity with which I delivered my piece.
But I like to think that surely Glenn, in his time, must have uttered a choice word or two.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Time tells time is passing away, but it does not tell us what is coming back in its stead. I can’t believe Google Gmail is allowing people to change "time.", at least that’s what Ms. Mommy Bach told me. I don’t need a time machine. I can send an email to Mr. Glenn Gould in his time right now.

Date: Oct 24, 1964
Subject: a gift

Dear Mr. Gould,

I have been studying Bach’s last great instrumental composition “The Art of Fugue”, for quite sometime now. There’s a canon from an earlier version of Bach’s score that will be published some twenty years later. I know you probably would record it by then. I am going to do it now for my time. This is my gift to you. I hope you like it.

Ms. Bach

The Glenn Gould Foundation has declared year 2007-2008 as "The Year of Glenn Gould." There are events scheduled across the calendar and around the globe to commemorate the life and work of the great pianist, Mr. Glenn Gould. One 11-year old girl has embarked on a personal journey to commemorate this anniversary celebration in her own unique way. It is her mission to create a children’s version of the "32 Short Films about Glenn Gould." She has already completed the first 10 chapters and is ready to share her vision with the world of classical children.

Since her first recording of a Bach CD, her first encounter with Glenn Gould’s music, and her first obsession with Glenn Gould through the "32 Short Films about Glenn Gould," the young girl is enjoying a decade-long sojourn of learning and appreciating the music of Bach, as well as cultivating her love of Glenn Gould’s music. She carries a vivid vision of sharing her passion with all classical children of her generation through an adventurous and joyous journey. She would like you to join her.

Ms. Bach Aug, 31, 2007 ☺
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pleased to meet you, Mr. Gould.

As a young Canadian who loves music and the arts, as the newly hired fundraising administrator at The Glenn Gould Foundation, I think it is time for me to come clean about something. As a history grad, as a Toronto resident, I, Liz Murray, have been faking it.

Here goes, with great regret, I admit that...
I have merely been pretending to know Mr. Gould.

How, you ask? I shamefully admit to using my old standby "the smile and nod" whenever his name has come up in the past. This was fine until I accepted the position at the Foundation. That is when my conscience started to rebel. Each time I announced the new job to my friends and acquaintances, I had to deal with the inner turmoil caused by pretending to know Mr. Gould. I would find myself yammering on about how he was a famous Canadian pianist. That statue outside of the CBC? Yeah, that is him. I hoped that people would be satisfied with my answers, that they would not think to ask any questions. Yet I found myself slightly comforted by the fact that I was not alone- the majority of my counterparts did not know Mr. Gould either. Comfort turned to regret; it is such a shame that after only 25 years, his legacy is fading away to another generation.

In my new position at The Glenn Gould Foundation, I find myself suddenly working very closely to this fascinating man. Our paths have finally crossed. Better late than never. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Gould.

This is the story of Mr. Gould and me.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

“Of all the music that really interests me – not just some of it, all of it – is
Contrapuntal music”
- Ms. Bach :) Oct 21, 2008

Contrapunctus #9 from “Art of Fugue”, BWV 1080

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Glenn Gould helps me move the furniture

"...every key
is like a different room
and I am a blind man who must learn
to walk through all twelve of them
without hitting the furniture."
(from "Piano Lessons" by Billy Collins)

So(h). I am 53 years old and taking piano lessons, not for the first time, but for the third time in my adult life. And it occurs to me, as I sit (too close to the piano), peering near-sightedly at the black notes dancing before my eyes (is that a D or a B?), did Glenn Gould ever say to his piano teacher, "Oh, but I played this fine at home"?

Why should Glenn Gould come to mind as I turn to page 8 of the Royal Conservatory of Music Celebration Series The Piano Odyssey? Ought he to figure in this at all? What has Glenn Gould got to do with Grade 7 piano?

Because more than once he has lifted one from dull ground and offered the sparkling spaces between notes and the temptation is too great: I want to be part of this too.

This is what I cling to as I sit on that bench, hoping against hope that Glenn will sit on my shoulder and help me avoid hitting the furniture.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Most Written-About Pianist. Ever.

Since I'm about to add to the already copious amount of writing on the subject of Glenn Gould, I think it's appropriate to take a look at what's out there, or—more to the point—exactly how much is out there; because my suspicion is that GG is probably the most written-about pianist. Ever.

So, for starters, let's test this hypothesis—the modern way: by searching Google. My completely unscientific method will be to take a totally arbitrary group of pianists, including Gould, run parallel Google searches on them and then see how they compare. At the end we'll see if there is a clear "winner." Or maybe not.

In addition to Glenn Gould, I'll be running searches on Old-World Romantic Vladimir Horowitz, Cold War-Horseman Van Cliburn, Contemporary Action Superstar Lang Lang, Ultra-Serious Maestro Maurizio Pollini, and–why not?–Liberace. It should be interesting.

The first contest is the basic Google "Web" search. This simply gives you results for every page on the web that contains a given search term. My prediction: a win for GG with Lang Lang coming in second. But I'm not going to venture a point-spread unless anyone wants to start a pool. And now the results:

1. Lang Lang: 3,840,000
2. Gould: 1,370,000
3. Liberace: 1,230,000
4. Pollini: 852,000
5. Horowitz: 378,000
6. Cliburn: 219,000

Okay, so I'm obviously not a bookie. On consideration it makes perfect sense though: Lang Lang is currently active with an ultra high-profile performing schedule, including the Beijing Olympics, and, even as I write this, has the full marketing force of the Universal Music Group putting his name everywhere, including on Adidas running shoes.

Still, GG's ranking is pretty strong for someone whose death predated the emergence of the Web by more than a decade. I suspect that if you filter out promotional sites, concert announcements, and duplicate current-events reports that Gould would come out on top here.

How about that Liberace, though! A surprisingly strong showing from Mr. Showmanship. Seriously.

The next test is YouTube clips. This metric doesn't really measure the amount of "writing about" anything, but I already said that this wasn't going to be a scientific inquiry. Here I'm calling for a landslide win for Lang Lang based on the fact that he is a YouTube-era superstar. I am predicting GG to come in second. I'll even venture a spread: LL over GG by a ratio of 7:1. Let's see:

1. Gould: 1,010
2: Liberace: 783
3. Lang Lang: 701
4: Horowitz: 664
5: Cliburn: 228
6: Pollini: 149

Maybe I should just stop with the predictions. Clearly Jimmy the Greek would have had nothing to worry about from me. GG was just all over that media! Once again though, check out that Liberace. Hotcha!

Now on to the Google News portion of the experiment. Of the three living pianists on our list, two are active and one is deep into retirement. The other three can't really do much to make news at this point. So I'm predicting another massive win for Lang Lang. But, hey, what do I know?

1. Lang Lang: 199
2. Liberace: 161
3. Gould: 128
4. Cliburn: 68
5: Horowitz: 28
6: Pollini: 26

Well, obviously I don't know much. What is going on here? How can the news spread be so narrow between one guy who currently ranks at the top of the international concert circuit versus two others who have not walked the earth for decades? I don't get it. By the way, the Van Cliburn news results are somewhat misleading, as many of the hits actually refer to the Van Cliburn Foundation, while several others are simply reprinted accounts of the triumphant 1966 recital that he gave from within a Gemini spacecraft flying over the Soviet Union.

Finally we move on to Google Books. Here's where we will get the best idea of the amount of actual writing about our six subjects. I'm predicting Gould to top the list here with Liberace coming in a close second.

1. Liberace: 1084
2. Gould: 1023
3. Horowitz: 847
4. Cliburn: 814
5. Pollini: 651
6. Lang Lang: 255*

Well I was kind of right. It was close but tilted in favor of The Glitter Man. Gould does lead, however, in the number of books about which he is the sole subject. I counted at least 25. The other pianists are only partly the subjects of, or merely mentioned in most of the books in which they appear.

So, in conclusion, uhh . . . I guess I haven't really demonstrated anything conclusively other than my blatant predictive ineptitude. But it's pretty clear that the subject of Glenn Gould has been extensively covered both in writing and in other media as well, which is really the point I wanted to establish. Of course, I knew that before doing all this Googling, and so did you probably, but it was fun doing this bit of unscientific research. The next time I do something like this I'll try to involve some lab
coats and fuming beakers. Then it will be scientific.

* The Google book results for Lang Lang are greatly overstated since "Lang" is a common name and, even after being qualified with the additional term "piano," the search still turns up results for Judith Lang, BJ Lang, Fritz Lang, the Reverend Innocenz Lang, etc.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Blog Policy

Welcome to the Contrapuntal Blog, the official blog of The Glenn Gould Foundation. This blog is a place for respectful dialogue with Glenn Gould Foundation team members and Glenn Gould fans.

We hope to create exciting, interesting and relevant discussion. The views and ideas conveyed in the posts are not necessarily similar to the views and ideas The Glenn Gould Foundation. We ask that you respect the following discussion guidelines. All comments will be moderated and any comments falling outside of the discussion guidelines below will be deleted.

Discussion Guidelines for The Contrapuntal Blog Readers
Offensive material to any member of the community is subject to deletion at the editor’s discretion. Anything containing profanity, sexually graphic, or offensive language, etc. will be deleted. We do not allow harassing, threatening, racist, abusive, hateful, violent, or obscene language or behavior. If you have complaints or questions regarding any of the content posted on this blog, please contact us.

Also note that:
1. Participation in, suggesting, or encouraging any illegal activity is cause for immediate deletion, and may be reported to the appropriate authorities.
2. Any articles, news reports, or other copyrighted material included in the posts must be with the permission of the relevant copyright owners.
3. Do not flood or spam, post chain letters, pyramid schemes, junk mail, or URLs for outside sites that violate any of these guidelines.
4. No commercial solicitation or advertising will be allowed
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