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.
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!
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.