Over the past year, my interest in Glenn Gould has waned. Perhaps it’s due to the seemingly endless stay-at-home order here in Ontario, or maybe I just don’t feel there’s a place for me any more in the Gould world at large. I don’t see myself and my ideals in any of the content coming from the official Gould folks and I’m tired of trying to keep up. It’s as though my view of Glenn Gould has been eclipsed by a larger, more powerful, corporate Glenn Gould.
Then there’s the issue of white privilege, with which I have been wrestling. Glenn was also privileged and in order for me to be a good listener and hear the experiences of others who do not look like me, I have taken a break from thinking about Glenn Gould. All sorts of thoughts have been going through my head and while my love and appreciation for the music of Bach and for nature has never been stronger (and I know that if there was anything Glenn wouldn’t mind being sidelined for, it’s Bach and nature) I can definitely say that Glenn and his obsession with solitude is, at least right now, not what I want to be thinking about. In pre-pandemic times, those thoughts fuelled my creativity. Nowadays, my mental health simply cannot handle them.
I’ve already blogged about my thoughts on solitude during a pandemic. Granted, I am an introvert who sure does love a heap of solitude, but to continue probing Glenn’s ideas about solitude from this state of forced isolation, amidst a sea of continued question marks about the likelihood of the careers of folks like me getting beyond this state of limbo, is just not a path I want to send my thoughts down. I have to look after me because nobody else is going to do it, you know?
With all of that said, I do still want to keep this little corner of the Gould world alive in whatever way I can and, in this post, what I want to share are some phrases that I jotted down last August, 2020 after listening several times to Glenn’s 1977 radio documentary, The Quiet in the Land (and rewinding many times to get the wording correct.) I hadn’t touched these notes until now, nearly a year later.
As I listened to the voices of the six speakers weave themselves in and out of the edited texture of Glenn’s musical hand, as it were, certain phrases stood out in my mind as being surprisingly current and highly in line with the social issues facing us today. It is for this reason that I can presently say that Glenn’s work is comforting me. Note that it’s not Glenn’s piano recordings or his writing that’s comforting me, but his radio program, The Quiet in the Land, specifically the following select phrases which, as was the case for Glenn with all of his radio documentaries, were “as close to an autobiographical statement as I tend to get.”
At a time when the world is troubled by issues of race, the environment, the dark side of technology and a pandemic, to name just a few, I hear these phrases from The Quiet in the Land (a program produced by Glenn more than forty years ago) and I feel his voice very much in the here and now, entirely aware of the ugly problems facing our world. This is not the case when I listen to one of Glenn’s piano recordings, or when I watch one of his television programs. In fact, I don’t feel at all inclined these days to experience any of those recordings. At present, they feel old-fashioned and out-of-touch with the twenty-first century issues on my mind. These days, I don’t want to hear Glenn play Bach on the squeaky chair while humming, or hearing about his fear of germs and wearing of gloves and a scarf in the summer months. In 2021, this is not helpful to my mental health. What I need more than anything else, are answers and someone to keep me company.
In these excerpts that stood out in my mind from The Quiet in the Land (the prescience of which is rather striking) I will include a few of my own personal thoughts in parentheses:
“Everyone who is a true disciple, will have to suffer some persecution.” (For me, this means struggling to remain true to my chosen artistic path, when I have never before felt so unneeded.)
“Communication, of course, is the big problem. If people don’t understand it, it therefore is no good.” (We have right-wing, we have left-wing and we have endless fingers being pointed. Music, particularly the music of Bach, teaches me to be a good listener.)
“Ninety-five percent of the programs on television are not worth watching and indeed, might be harmful.” (I don’t have cable tv and I am glad of it!)
“God, help me this day, to be kind to the people who annoy me the most.” (Minus the God part and yes, totally!)
“I don’t get the impression from the Bible, that God is afraid of the fine arts.” (The world needs art, particularly difficult and complex art.)
“I find myself under considerable pressure from the fashions around me.” (You can say that again.)
“I find people all over who are becoming aware of the need for a genuine concern, who are becoming aware of the need to do something about the pressing problems of our time.” (It is becoming increasingly clear that even our beloved Canada has a dark side. Neglected and underprivileged voices are beginning to be heard. We can all do better and I think Glenn would agree.)
“I love people and I love watching people, observing people.” (I really do and how I do miss it in these days of Covid.)
“I think the pressure nowadays is making things more difficult for the children, than it did when we were youngsters. Our whole world has changed so dramatically. No matter how you bring children up nowadays, when they get out into the world, the standards, or lack of standards, are really very difficult. I think we can teach them not to be taken over by all the bluff, in plain words, that’s around, but pick and choose and don’t be apologetic for what you have and what you are.” (The youth of today are bearing an enormous burden. We must be there to support them.)
“I think we need to learn to go our own way.” (You be you, I’ll be me. Just let folks be.)
“If I am interested in the spiritual life of a person, I must first of all, be interested in that person as a person.” (Taking an interest in people, particularly those whose appearances, beliefs and customs don’t resemble your own.)
“It is very very difficult for one person, even a church pastor, to try to tell you, ‘Now this kind of literature you can read, but this other is dangerous.’ This has been very irksome to many of us in the past, because you set up a kind of schizophrenia after a while.” (Seriously!)
“It takes thirty years to live out a certain way of life that has meaning.” (To stand for something that has meaning takes time. Plant the seeds, water them and tend with love.)
“Once upon a time, we were people who prided ourselves on being the quiet in the land.” (It’s good to escape the city. Some things never change.)
“Sometimes, I think, just like everyone else, we must ask ourselves, ‘Are we really able to cope with this? Are we handling it right? Or are we becoming such stuffed shirts and affected, so that before you know it, you can’t talk to certain people if they have become educated beyond a certain degree?'” (Self-assessment is essential, particularly the older one gets.)
Soren Kierkegaard: “The purity of heart is to will one thing.” (Devote yourself to what you love.)
“The institution itself, the church itself, is not that important to me and I think that stretching our hand out, to help those who probably can’t do things for us, is much more important.” (Be good, be kind, wear a mask, share vaccines, listen to the stories of others, help an old person, be a good neighbour.)
“The scripture won’t change, but our understanding of it needs enlightenment and more enlightenment and at no point dare we say, ‘I think that we’ve got all the light there is.’ We constantly have to humble ourselves and say that maybe knowledge still needs more enlightenment.” (Trust the science, seek truth but don’t abandon a sense of wonder and imagination.)
“This choice means nothing, unless it helps our fellow man.” (Make that human. Words matter.)
“To learn to get along in this world, without being tainted by it. And that’s really what great art is all about.” (This is the reason so many of us in the precarious field of the arts continue to do what we do.)
“We are now a part of the city and we are faced with problems and pressures we didn’t have a generation ago.” (Uncannily true in the era of Covid-19.)
“We have people in wealthy professions, who do not get in the public eye the way the artist does.” (These days, in our digital half-life, as Margaret Atwood has referred to it, it’s become difficult for the serious artist to get into the public eye in a meaningful way.)
“We live in a society which is geared to making money, to preserving an American, or a Canadian way of life, without ever really examining the specifics of these.” (In the Gould community, this hits closer to home than you might think.)
To listen to The Quiet in the Land in it’s entirety, please click below:
Please do take good care of yourself and your mental health. You are special, you are loved.