Monday, January 7, 2013

What Glenn Gould Taught Me About Parenting

I can't exactly remember what sparked my renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach - I think it has something to do with hearing the cello suites playing on my daughter's night time playlist all the time.

I have listened to and loved the cello suites for about eight years now but Bach was such a prolific composer, and was exceptionally important as a composer of keyboard works, that I wanted to spend more time with some of those.  Anyone who knows Bach and the piano would immediately point me to the recordings of Glenn Gould.  Though I've heard of him for years, and spent time in college working in the music library, consuming recordings of everything I could find, I don't think I'd ever listened to one of the most famous classical pianists, known especially for his interpretations of Bach.  You should listen to him.  Here's his famous 1981 recording of the Goldberg Variations:
Even if you're not too interested, watch a few points in this video, because he's quite the character.  His friend and biographer speculated that he may well have been on the autism spectrum; indeed, his eccentricities lend credence to that theory.  You'll see him sitting on an ancient-looking chair with no cushion: his father built that chair, and he only performed sitting on it, long after its cushion wore through.  He specified temperature settings for his studio sessions, did not like to be touched, and limited his contact with people.  His movements while playing definitely fall outside of what's typical.  And my favorite thing: listen closely, and you'll hear him humming along while he plays.

This is how I knew I'd never listened to Glenn Gould before.  I had his Well-Tempered Clavier recording in headphones yesterday, and thought I must be imagining things, because I heard a sort of groan/hum along with the music.  And it's not subtle.  He claimed it was subconscious, and the volume at which he sang varied based on how much he needed to compensate for a given piano's lack of ability to create the sounds he desired.  In some recordings he's louder than others; in this 1981 Goldberg one, critics said many listeners would "find the groans and croons intolerable."

I love it.

Autism or no, Glenn Gould did what he loved, and didn't care what people thought.  His gyrating stage presence might have been a novelty that drew a large crowd, but groaning and humming on a professional recording?  No one does that, and I'm sure it turned people off.  But he was so focused and consumed with his craft that he did what he saw as necessary and good.  I love experiencing other people in love with their craft, and Glenn Gould was unabashedly in love with playing the music of Bach.

I'd like to parent that way.  There's a combination of real and perceived stigma around my current almost-stay-at-home lifestyle, and though I am glad we're doing this, I often find myself playing up the meager hours I spend as a teacher, and mentioning the time I spend at home as an afterthought.  I love teaching, and I love making music, but I also love being a dad, and I want to be just as unabashed about playing in the floor or reading the Belly Button Book as Glenn Gould was about singing on his piano recordings.  Because of his reckless abandon of social norms, Gould created really profound and special music, and I like to think that, given some dose of that, I'll help to foster a profound and special relationship with my little girl.

That might be a bit of a roundabout lesson, but that's how I look at things right now, through a paternal lens.  If you read all that and are still dissatisfied, just listen to him play.

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