Midnight Reminiscence Upon Listening To Glenn Gould

by pieces of moments

They say the sense most strongly linked with memory is smell. It’s true. If I get a whiff of a very particular earthly scent or cologne or perfume I experience teleportation to the exact time in my life where the aroma and I previously encountered each other. However, I experience the same phenomenon with music. My life has been marked out measure by measure, by sequence, motif, movement, sonata, symphony, prelude, and intermezzo.

Growing up in the 80’s records and tapes were the preferred method of freezing musical time and our family had plenty of LPs around. I remember listening to Michael Jackson and I remember shocking the overly zealous 5 year old friends I had from conservative families who were shocked that I uttered the name (yes, at age 5). Big band music will forever be linked in my mind with riding in my grandfather’s amazing 1960 bright yellow Ford Mustang convertible. The car was pure pleasure, it was it’s only function. During the spring and summer it would come out of storage, I would climb in and the wind would carry away our hair, my little hat bought at the zoo, and the sound waves of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. I remember my little tape of Philippino folk music bought before we came to the States and brought along. I have a vague memory of trying to make up little dance steps to go along with the simultaneously familiar and exotic sounds emitting from the stereo system.

I was always dancing as a kid, every chance I got. Baryshnikov was my favorite, still is, and always will be. Every Christmas the season didn’t start for me until I got to see his Nutcracker Suite broadcast on PBS. If we were at home for it, I would grab my ballet gear, put it all on, and dance in every spare space along with him (and Gelsey Kirkland). Not only did I hear music all the time, but it always made me want to physically interact, somehow, and at that time it was through dance.

Once I took myself out of dance class (thanks to a horribly strict ballet teacher from the USSR who single handedly killed my ballet loving spirit) and threw myself into my piano studies my physical relation to music became through the vibrations I felt in the instrument after depressing each key, and trying to figure out this tricky damper pedal thing that, if used too exuberantly, made everything sound mushy and runny. It also came more pointedly now through the vibrations from the large 1980 style speakers hooked up to our record player. I put on record after record of what can be called the “greatest hits” of classical music: Grieg, Smetana, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Bach. The only Bach recordings around were those of Glenn Gould.

My clearest musical association is of realizing the bizarre non-musical sounds I noticed between the notes were actually the sounds of him humming, sometimes with unbelievable fervor, as he coaxed this dead box laced with strings to evoke exactly what he wished. I was stunned. I pressed my ear up to the speaker as hard as I could and can still feel that webby, silky, brown fabric against my ear when I think of it. I gloried in his exuberance, in the vibrations of his human hum.

I have studied music a long time now. I have degrees, and get paid to work in a realm of sounds. Sometimes I get jaded and overly philosophical and loose track of the simple reason of why my whole life has been turned upside down by these collections of sounds visible only to my heart. I too easily forget the physical magic of tiny vibrations moving through space, moving through my fingers, through the speakers, through Glenn Gould’s whole being that resulted in a passion and a joy that could only be told in impossible humming sounds that measured his life then, and measure mine now.