Quality Solitude and Creaky Furniture

Two months ago, I created an audiobook podcast devoted to the forgotten stories and memoirs of female performing artists from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Admittedly, From Stage to Page came about as a result of the pandemic and, of our rising Covid case numbers here in Ontario which have resulted in a stay-at-home order. As I write this blog post, we are in a state of emergency.

One might be inclined to suppose that, were Glenn Gould alive today – lover of solitude as he was – he would be enjoying this forced isolation. Like Gould, I live alone and, while during normal times this is a good thing, at present, it is a challenge, not because I don’t still love solitude (I do!) but rather, because the quality of solitude these days is poor. Quality in all things really does matter and this includes solitude for, as Glenn once said: “Solitude is the pre-requisite for ecstatic experiences.”

The hope in creating my podcast, was that I could find a safe, virtual way in which to stay connected with the individuals with whom I would have otherwise connected via live recitals, library presentations, master classes and the like. I also wanted to shed some light on female artists of the past, telling the unique and insightful stories about their devotion to their art. I know that these books do not get read very much any more and it brings me pleasure and satisfaction to breathe new life into them.

In coming up with the podcast, I have somewhat had to put my interest in Glenn Gould on the shelf. To be sure, his influence is present in nearly everything that I create, however, I have not consciously sought to “incorporate” Gouldian philosophy into my podcast. This brings me to the episode that I published today. Episode #34 offers up the second chapter of Theodore Leschetizky, written by the English pianist, Annette Hullah and published in 1906.

Having completed more than thirty episodes (I am on my fourth book) I have come to appreciate just how much can the human voice be used in the manner of a musical instrument. Recording each episode, such as it is here in my modest studio, with no training in acting or diction and little to no skill in the way of audio production, I have nevertheless persisted to make my humble narrations as musical as possible. In doing so, I seek to tell a story in such a way as to make listeners feel as though they have a friend. That is to say that, shabby in quality as the solitude of 2020/21 has been, I have this persistent desire to improve the quality of solitude, even if it’s just that of my own. By speaking slowly, gently and with (I hope) a variety of moods ranging from humour to solemnity, I am striving – albeit through a podcast – to create a direct-to-listener point of contact.

In previous blog posts, I have talked about Glenn’s interest in this direct-to-listener approach and it was with this in mind that he abandoned live concerts in order to devote himself to the recording studio. While I have not yet had an opportunity to make a professional studio piano recording, I have always stiffened a bit at the initial moment when the record button is pushed. Not so when recording my podcast. Rather, when I am speaking in front of my little microphone, I feel what Glenn talked about when he said that his idea of happiness was to spend two hundred and fifty days a year in a recording studio. “I think I get it, Glenn and yes, it’s a comfortable, safe place!”

With that, I thought that I had pretty much hit upon the only Gouldian aspect of my newly found recording project, that is, until earlier this evening when, out for a walk with headphones in place and, listening to my latest episode, I heard a few more extraneous noises than usual. Now, I live in a small house that is situated right up close to the sidewalk and, as such, cars and pedestrians passing by can easily be heard. I also have an old desk and chair that creak. Does this remind you of someone?

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have heard recordings of Glenn, where the creaking of his chair could be heard. It is a well-known fact that throughout his career, Glenn used the same chair, a chair which, by the latter part of his career in particular, had practically lost the entire seat! It was a dreadfully uncomfortable-looking contraption and yet so vital and endearing to Glenn. Could another chair of equal height not have done the job just as well and without creaking sounds that could be picked up by a sensitive microphone? Certainly. Yet despite being a perfectionist, Glenn opted out of this solution. Perhaps it wasn’t a problem to begin with.

This brings me to the main point that I am trying to make, which is that, as I listened to my podcast this evening and heard the various creaks of my desk and the odd car going by, I was reminded of Glenn’s creaking chair. In no way did these extraneous noises startle or irritate me. On the contrary – provided they are heard only sparingly! – I found them endearing. Whenever I hear Glenn’s creaking chair in one of his recordings, it’s almost as if I can suddenly see him at the chair, fully immersed in the music, one shoe off and laces untied on the other. The noise of his chair serves as a kind of musical “prop” in these audio tone poems. The occasional creaking of my own furniture, reminded me of this and I was both surprised and amused by the sudden appearance of Glenn’s little idiosyncrasy having presented itself to me where I least expected it.

I like to think that Glenn left in his recordings the sound of his creaking chair, so that years after his death, those of us listening to his recordings (in a period of physical distancing, no less!) would encounter him not in an antiseptic chamber, but rather, that we would imagine him in the comfort of his living room, enjoying the highest quality of solitude.

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