Canuck of the Day: Glenn Gould


Image: Glenn Gould with his English Setter (Archives Ontario)

Many notable Canadians have had strong opinions about school and schooling, or interesting experiences in or out of the system. We will refer to a few of these characters as inspiration strikes (like lightening, not like Quebec’s government lawyers).

Today’s featured Canuck is . . .  (ironically appropriate drum roll) . . . Glenn Gould!

Glenn Gould (1932-1982) grew up in Ontario and became an amazing organist by age 11, and then a phenomenal pianist for the remainder of his life. He was known to be highly opinionated, rather eccentric, driven, sensitive and either brilliant or dreadful at whatever he tried to do. (Brilliant: pianist. Dreadful: actor.)

When Gould was a youngster he went to the local school, where he impishly enjoyed playing the music teacher’s friendly melodies backwards and upside down, while his somewhat bewildered classmates attempted to focus on the lesson. Which begs the question, should students like Gould be removed from group lessons, rather than distract – and potentially demoralize – their classmates? Is the group lesson format simply not for everyone? Perhaps even more interesting: if I am as annoying in my group class as Glenn Gould was in his, does it mean that I am as talented as he was???! Or is it the ‘I wear a scarf therefore I must be as good a composer as Verdi’ syndrome? 🙂 Food for thought!

Perhaps  of greater note, the adult Gould reported that his childhood tendency to sing aloud, at school, whatever music he was sorting out in his head, had the lucky (and surprising) effect of repelling bullies. (Do not try this at home! Or rather, at school. Though it worked for Glenn Gould, so did playing Shostakovich brass ensemble music for fun. For FUN!)

Through these tantalizing yet ultimately irrelevant facts we can conclude that Glenn Gould’s life seems to have been little affected by the fact that he went to public school. He was in no way an ambassador for either institutionalized or home–based schooling.

BUT . . .

. . . in following his own interests and abilities, Gould went further in the direction of self-directed learning than many of us ever do. He preferred to pursue his passion for music alone: he disliked performing live and relished playing in a recording studio; he made lone visits to his parents’ summer cottage to work out interpretations of Bach without any interruption or outer influence; he loved taking off to the wild empty spaces of the Arctic to think. Without making any assumptions, one could observe that for some people, Doing Their Own Thing is apparently more satisfying and enjoyable than Following A Course. Since Canada is a multicultural, diverse and big country, there should be plenty of room (as there in fact is) for students who choose similar paths.

Glenn Gould, as Canuck of the Day, is a wonderfully Canadian example of excellence and individuality. Young Canadians today ought to know who he was, if they don’t already, eh?

Link to vaguely-related product: J.S. Bach Lapbook


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