1982 Times Two

 

This year, artists from around the world used 2017 as an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Glenn Gould (1932-82).  Marking the would-be 85th anniversary of his birth and the 35th anniversary of his death, the year lent itself well to celebrations.  This year also marked the 150th birthday of Canada.

With 2018 just around the corner (60th anniversary celebration of Glenn’s 1958 Boston debut anyone?) and the holiday season upon us, we might take a moment to mark yet another milestone, that being the 135th anniversary of The Salvation Army.  In June of 1982, just a few months before Glenn’s passing at the age of fifty, Canada Post issued a stamp honouring the centennial of this important charity and one for which Glenn held in high regard.  Canada Post issued their Millennial Collection stamp honouring Glenn in December of 1999.

Last night while out shopping for groceries, I dropped some money in the Salvation Army Christmas kettle.  I give a little bit every year however this year, having myself participated in a Glenn Gould 2017 event here in Mississauga, I felt a closeness to Glenn.  Not only was I helping those less fortunate than myself, but I was also remembering and celebrating Glenn in perhaps the best way possible.  People and animals in need.  These were causes dear to Glenn and, to that end, he left his estate to The Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society.

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The bell ringer was a pleasant fellow who, in exchange for my modest gift, offered me a smile, a “thank you” and a wish for goodness.  This is so very Glenn.

When you pass by The Salvation Army kettles and bell ringers this holiday season, drop in a toonie or two and think of Glenn.  I’m positive that he’d have liked that.

Good tidings of love, health, peace and happiness to you.

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Glenn and Corduroy

Corduroy

The funny thing about being profoundly influenced by someone you’ve never met, is that whether you realize it or not, they’re almost always on your mind.  Just when I think I’ve parcelled away my Gouldian ideas for the night – ideas about voicing in the music of Bach, or about the similarities between Art of Fugue and Walden  a seemingly unrelated yet strikingly appropriate connection comes to mind.

One such moment happened when, after opening the drawer to my nightstand, I found the cover of one of my favourite story books, Corduroy by Don Freeman.  I am comforted by the sweet and innocent cover of this 1968 classic, it’s no wonder I keep it where I can see it before bedtime instead of hidden away on the top shelf of my bookcase.

While I’ve no way of knowing whether or not Glenn ever read Corduroy, I’ve a hunch that he’d have found in it, a simple depiction of some of his deepest values.  If you aren’t familiar with Corduroy, then I highly recommend checking out a copy from your local library (you’ll find it under “X FREE” in the Junior Paperback Picture Book section).

Corduroy is the story of a wee stuffed bear, living amongst fancier toys in a department store.  While out shopping with her mother one day, a young girl named Lisa, passes by and walks up to the bear.  Longingly, she looks at Corduory and pleads with her mother that this is the bear she has always wanted.  Lisa’s practical mother has no time for the bear, remarking that they’ve already spent a great deal of money and furthermore, the bear has lost a button to one of his shoulder straps.  Exit mother and daughter.

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Thinking that if he could only find a button for his overalls then the pleasant little girl would come back for him, Corduroy sets out in search of a button.  After store hours, when all is quiet and the lights are off, Corduroy travels from department to department, up and down the escalator where, after seeing a mattress button, attempts to pull it off only to have an accident in which he knocks over a lamp.

The adventure ends when, after hiding under the comforter of one of the beds, the night watchman shines his flashlight on two little ears poking out from under the covers.  Dutifully, the watchman carries Corduroy back to the toy department and places him next to the other, mainstream stuffed animals.  Poor Corduroy, his plan to find the missing button in the hopes that he would no longer be neglected, had failed.  He would forever remain shabby and therefore unloved.  Or so he thought…

Having emptied her piggy bank, Lisa returned to the store the next morning to buy the bear.  Refusing a gift box, she carried the buttonless little friend in her arms back home, where she gave him a new home and a button, too.  “I like you the way you are,” she said.

On the one hand, this is a story about the simple life, about helping others and being a good and generous person.  These notions are very Glenn, however, what I want to point out is the way this story relates to Glenn’s penchant for turning to neglected creatures and things, as if opening the door for many little ecstatic experiences and meaningful communication.

Glenn’s choice of repertoire, for example, favoured the works of neglected composers such as Orlando Gibbons, Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg.  As for the music of J. S. Bach, let’s be clear that it was not crowd-pleasing works such as the Italian Concerto or the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue which Glenn admired, but rather, the composer’s thorny, old-fashioned and unconventional final work, Art of Fugue.

Let us not forget how as a boy, Glenn would bring home every stray pet in the neighbourhood, including a skunk.  Glenn’s obsession with solitude and neglected northern landscapes and remote highways, is not unlike Corduroy and his trip through the abandoned department store.  We might even go so far as to say that Glenn’s preference for polyphonic music symbolized a desire to give all voices equal attention, to undo them from the neglect that results from homophonic textures and their dominant solo part or melody.

This aspect of Glenn having given his attention to the neglected, can also be seen in the spirit of his compassion for those less fortunate than himself.  That is to say that he left his entire estate to two charities, the Toronto Humane Society and the Salvation Army. Since Glenn’s death, many neglected people and animals have benefitted from his generous spirit.

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As intellectually stimulating as Glenn’s recordings, radio documentaries and philosophical writings are, his human side – made evident by these seemingly random, unmusical connections to things like children’s storybooks and 1970’s television shows (see blog post #2 “Why Glenn Gould Loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) – is an aspect that we might do well to contemplate.  Whether your artistic role model is Glenn Gould, Pablo Picasso or Tina Turner, look for the unexpected connections that bring these people close to us.  All of the great minds that have come and gone have much to tell us in their own unique and unconventional ways.  Like a finely tuned radio (I know, another Glenn reference) we ought from time to time, to tune into the human frequency, adjusting our receivers accordingly and picking up some truly meaningful connections.

 

 

 

Why Glenn Gould Loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show

MTM winter

If it’s true that Glenn Gould was as good a person as those who knew him said he was, then it’s no wonder he loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Here was a 1970’s sitcom about a thoroughly decent, thoughtful and polite single girl, who worked as an associate producer at WJM, a friendly television news station in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

There it is, a program about a good person, living alone in the north and happily working in the field of media and communications.  It’s practically Glenn, well, minus Mary’s great sense of fashion.  Of course, Glenn was notorious for dressing in drab colours and, his shoes were, according to Lorne Tulk, almost always untied.  Glenn also wasn’t one for looking after his things.  Can you imagine Mary Richards, the main character, hauling around her typewriter in a green garbage bag?  This was how Glenn transported his special piano chairs.

Personal appearance aside, there are a great many similarities between Glenn and Mary.  Take for instance, their inability to tolerate violence of any kind.  In the episode, “You Sometimes Hurt the Ones You Hate” from season 5, Lou Grant, Mary’s boss, throws anchorman, Ted Baxter through a door for having endorsed a political candidate on the air.  Upset, Mary tells Murray Slaughter, her coworker, that she doesn’t believe in physical violence.  “The thought of someone being physically injured, I just don’t like it,” she says, “I never have.”

Glenn was very much the same way, particularly regarding animals and, in an effort to protect innocent fish from meeting their dreadful fate up at the Gould family cottage on Lake Simcoe, Glenn would bustle about in his motorboat, nicknamed the “Arnold S” (that’s “S” as in Schoenberg) stirring up great waves and frustrating those with rods in tow.

On the topic of animals, it appears from the opening credits of the show, that Mary also loved dogs.  Season 3 opens with footage of Mary lovingly giving a friendly pat on the head to a neighbourhood dog.  Those unfamiliar with Buddy, Sir Nickolson of Garelocheed (Nicky) and Banquo, need only perform a Google image search for the phrase “Glenn Gould dogs.”

That same third season intro features Mary participating in a number of Gouldian pasttimes, ranging from driving around in her car, to walking outside alone in nature during wintertime.  I can’t help wondering if Glenn’s love for the show had something to do with the outdoor photoshoot that he would have a few years later in 1974, with photographer, Don Hunstein.

Handily, the show’s intro can be viewed online:

Let’s be clear though, Glenn would never have been caught shopping for a loaf of bread in the afternoon.  A midnight run for Arrowroot biscuits however, yes, that’s more like it.

As regards the whole driving thing, it’s interesting to note that Glenn treated driving as a kind of piano practice session.  According to Lorne, Glenn would think of the dashboard as a kind of keyboard.  “Glenn knew where the notes were,” Lorne said, “he could ‘see’ them and visualize the jumps.”  Glenn might not have been much of a practicer at the instrument, but he sure did put in the time out on the open road.

Mary’s newsroom colleagues (Lou, Ted, Murray and, in the later seasons, Sue Anne Nivens) were likeable characters, none of which had much of a social life.  As such, they were more than colleagues, or for that matter, friends.  They were family.  This aspect of the show is present in all 168 episodes, not the least of which is “The Last Show” which aired here in Canada on March 18, 1977.  Glenn would have been forty-six.

I think a lot of why Glenn loved the MTM show, was because it involved a team of good, kind and caring people working in the field of media and communications.  In a nutshell, Mary and her colleagues were doing the kind of work that interested Glenn.  “The most interesting people to have around one,” he remarked in 1969, “are people who are in a position to make synoptic judgments, diplomats, foreign service people, people in communications, journalists sometimes if they don’t get too caught up in the clichés of journalism, but definitely not artists.”  Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but I really think that the MTM show validated for Glenn, a lot of what he was trying to do with his own work in the recording studio.  The show was also ridiculously funny, “Farmer Ted and the News”, “I Was a Single for WJM News” and “Chuckles Bites the Dust” from seasons 3, 4 and 6 respectively, are three of my favourites. 

For what other reasons might Glenn have loved the MTM show?  Take for instance, Mary’s love of music.  In both of her apartments (in season 6, Mary moved out of the quaint upstairs apartment she had in a beautiful old house and into a modern high-rise) we find a stereo system.  Ok, maybe there weren’t any Neumann U87 microphones or AKG speakers in Mary’s living room, but she did enjoy her records.

In the episode, “Ted’s Tax Refund” from season 6 for example, Mary’s stereo breaks down.  Lou comes over and gets the system up and running, after which Mary puts on a record of Schumann’s E-flat Major Piano Quintet.  Nice.

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Happy Mary at stereo

Yes, it’s good to have Living Stereo!

Let’s get back to that whole idea of Mary being a good person.  I am certain that Glenn watched her show with a big smile on his face.  Incidentally, his dubs of the show are housed in the Glenn Gould Archives, at the National Library of Canada.  “Glenn worked very hard at being a good person.”  Lorne has repeated this phrase to me numerous times, as have a number of other individuals I have come to know, people who worked with Glenn in one way or another.  This was a man who left his entire estate to the Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society.  His life was devoted to the pursuit of ecstatic experiences and, to that end, Glenn viewed solitude as a prerequisite.

Glenn was also very much against competition and conformity (an obvious reason for his having loved J. S. Bach’s final work, Art of Fugue) and it was for this reason that he abandoned a successful concert career in order to devote himself to studio recording.  Here was a concert pianist who turned his back on giving recitals so that he could make radio and television programs, so that he could use technology not as a means of rejecting pre-existing material, but rather, to manipulate it in order to form new creative ends.

The episode that comes to mind here, is “The Outsider” from season 5, in which WJM hires a young hot shot to help improve ratings.  While Bob Larson does manage to successfully get the ratings up, the team realizes that, with his departure for bigger and better opportunities with the network, WJM may have went as far as it will ever go.  Feeling down about their overall place in the world of broadcasting, Mary rallies the troops, reminding them that ratings aren’t everything.  “What’s wrong with being a nice, friendly little station?” she says.  To be a good person, bringing kindness to others and without the need to always finish first or to make the most money, this is how Glenn lived.

One of the episodes that best sums up why I think Glenn loved the MTM show is “Ted’s Change of Heart,” from the seventh and final season.  After a mild heart attack brings about a change of personality for WJM anchorman, Ted Baxter, the rest of the news team take a deeper, more thoughtful look at life and why we are here.

Airing on October 23, 1976, the episode concludes with Mary, Lou and Murray at the window, taking in a beautiful sunset.  They’ve turned off the news and all of it’s violence and destruction, in order to have a little “ecstatic” moment.  This they do in the film room – a studio which looks not unlike those Glenn occupied at the CBC – amidst reels of film, projectors and such.  It is a moment of goodness, of not caring about ratings or competition.  It is very Glenn.

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If you don’t already know this wonderfully made television show and, in particular if you admire the work of Glenn Gould, then I hope this little post inspires you to watch the MTM show.  When you buy your next book or box set of Glenn-related material, think about adding to the cart, a wonderful gift of love and laughter.

Taking Care of Glenn’s Chair

Glenn's Other Chair

One of my dear friends is Lorne Tulk.  A distinguished CBC Radio technician, Lorne was also a close friend of Glenn Gould, the two having worked together on many recordings and radio documentaries.  Lorne is a soft-spoken and deeply compassionate individual who honours with great care and thoughtfulness, the national treasure that was Glenn.

In almost all of our email correspondences and visits, Glenn’s name comes up and it is as though he never left.  We talk about a game Glenn liked to play, we play a few rounds, Lorne shares anecdotes from the past, we play some more and then have a good laugh.  In our conversations, it is never “Gould” and always “Glenn.”

Though artists of my generation have come to know Glenn posthumously, I have always felt a closeness to this deeply moral and brilliant musical thinker.  Every note I play at the piano, every word I write, every new idea that I have is usually, in some way or another, influenced by him.  To do things differently and in a meaningful way that is full of goodness – this is what I have learned from Glenn.

By no means have I heard every one of his recordings, nor have I read the many books (eighty-five is it?) about Glenn.  Rather, I find Glenn in the notes of Bach, in the writings of Thoreau, Mann, Innis and McLuhan, in episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in solitude, animals and of course, with Lorne.

Lorne & Penny

When it came time to prepare my opening remarks for “Glenn Gould 905”, a Canada 150 event that I coordinated a few months ago for The Chamber Music Society of Mississauga, I asked Lorne for permission to borrow a very special object that was given to him by Glenn.  The chair that creaks and sways in Glenn’s recordings is well known to listeners around the world.  This chair currently resides in Ottawa.  There were in fact, two chairs.  As it was told to me by Lorne, here is the real story behind Glenn’s chairs.

When Glenn was relatively young, he came to the conclusion that he wanted a lower chair for playing the piano.  Now, quite often, his parents had guests over to play cards and so they had a specific Card Table Set.  Glenn liked these chairs and decided to take one.  Likely, it was in his father, Bert’s workshop where Glenn proceeded to saw off the bottom of one of the legs of the chair.  Having happened to pass by, Bert could see what his son was up to and with great care and understanding, helped his son by cutting the rest of the legs.  Glenn was thrilled with what they’d achieved and, from that time on, took his famous “Good Luck” charm with him always, whenever and wherever he played, including at home.

Needless to say, after many years, many miles and many performances, Glenn came to the realization that this beloved “member of the family” could not continue taking a beating.  Glenn mentioned the concern to his father who proceeded to have another chair built to the exact, same specifications.  For several years, Glenn insisted on carrying around with him both chairs.  Eventually, he decided to keep the second chair for use at his apartment.  I should add that when I picked up the chair from Lorne, it was still in Glenn’s very same carrying case…a green garbage bag!

Glenn's chair

Having had Glenn’s chair at home with me for those two weeks in September was a rare and unexpected privilege.  The nicks on the wood, the adjustable black rubber stops on the ends of the legs, the missing black button in the upper left hand corner of the backrest and finally, the “Do Not Remove” tag at the bottom of the chair…Each of these traits launches a thousand thoughts, and I would be hard pressed to find any experience that can top having sat on Glenn’s chair while practicing Bach, just fourteen inches from the ground, in my home, alone, just me.  Solitude was, after all, the primary ingredient in all of Glenn’s work.

Harnessing Gouldian Thought in a Distracted Age

Autumn in Ontario

In my first post, I explore ways in which twenty-first century artists might use Glenn Gould as a career role model.  The moral fibre of Glenn’s creative output, his pursuit of solitude as a means for ecstatic experiences and his efforts to remove himself from the centre of a society in order to see it more clearly, serve as the backdrop to this audio essay.

Listen here: