A Circumpolar Map Adventure

Glenn Gould enjoyed maps, particularly those devoted to the Canadian Arctic. “In my school days,” Gould recalled (as quoted in Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould by Kevin Bazzana) “I used to pore over whichever maps of that region I could get my hands on…A bit later on, I began to examine aerial photographs and to look through geological surveys and came to realize that the north was possessed of qualities more elusive than even a magician like A. Y. Jackson could define with oils.”

Now I don’t pretend to be an authority on maps, however I do gain a lot of pleasure from them. The way a detailed and artfully designed map triggers my imagination at the piano, with thoughts of space and time (very important when playing a Bach fugue) history, the evolution of nature, the earth and of our relationship to it is a meaningful experience. I can remember the enormous, old National Geographic atlas that we had at home when I was little. It weighed practically a tonne and had page after page of detailed close-ups of every inch of the globe. It was terrific! Today, of course, we have GPS devices, however, helpful and convenient as they are, they don’t invite participation from the viewer in the same way as can a physical map.

Well, having had, just this past summer, my grand piano from Sault Ste. Marie, shipped to my home here in St. Catharines, I needed to decide what to put up on the large wall in the practice room. All summer, well, actually since I moved here right before the pandemic, I’ve been trying to come up with something to hang on said wall when, just the other day, while chatting with a friend over Skype (this gal’s a true Gouldian, an American and we’ve known each other since my early days as a contributing author for The Glenn Gould Foundation) she happened to mention circumpolar maps. I had never heard of these. Immediately after our chat, I looked them up and behold, oh happy day, I found the absolute perfect picture to hang on my practice wall!

What I found was a beautiful, thirty-five page circumpolar map, courtesy of Canadian Geographic (click here to view) complete even with a satisfying, calm, soothing colour scheme. (I don’t know about you, but I cannot stand maps in harsh, bright colours. Ah!) This map from Canadian Geographic is just great! I suppose I could have found one to buy, but I am careful with funds and the idea of cutting and pasting, lining up the lines of longitude, latitude, positioning it on the wall, etc., appealed to me, sort of a nice side project, I thought.

So, I printed off the thirty-five pages, bought a modest paper cutter and some double-sided tape and went to work. It took me several days, working a few hours each time. The finished product looks like this:

My homemade circumpolar map (courtesy of Canadian Geographic) laid out on my living room floor.

Up on the wall it went and, while it took a bit of getting used to having such a large, swirling image behind me at the piano (I do get motion sickness if I’m not careful) I soon came to be quite fond of the map and what it represents to me, not just as a pianist needing to be inspired, but also as a global citizen who recognizes the importance of having appreciation for our natural resources, yet doing so in such as way as not to lose the wonder and ecstasy of it all and the effect that it can have upon the arts. As Glenn once told a journalist, “I gather my inner resources from the outdoors.” Having this map on my practice room wall as I work on the music of J. S. Bach, is something that I think Glenn would have appreciated. I like to keep that thought tucked in my pocket.

Finally, as the pandemic has had me working largely from home (things are finally starting to open up here in Canada for those of us in the arts) I’ve been getting to know better how to make videos and so have been posting things on my YouTube channel. Here’s the video I made to document my circumpolar map-making adventure!

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