Glenn Gould, the James Dean of classical music
Posted by Richard Rawlinson
A follow up to Charles’s lyrical piece about the inadequacy of music at funerals.
With recorded music at funerals, people tend to sit down, listen, tap a foot, perhaps, and, if it’s really working its magic, meaningfully relate the music to the memory of the dead person. Whether pop lyrics or piano concerto, our response is predominantly a private reaction within the mind, but we’re likely to be distanced from full interaction by the fact the sound is projected into the room by loud speakers. It’s from a different time and place.
Live music emanates from activity in the room. If it’s a hymn or song, we stand up and participate, granted with varying degrees of success. The result is unlikely to be as polished as the professional recording but it punches beyond its weight due to its resonance as a collective effort unifying participators—created in real time, not just imbibed in real time. It’s the same principle when people recommend family and friends carry the coffin themselves.
Imagine the hymn or song is led, not by an organist or pianist present at the funeral, but by a recorded musical accompaniment. Aside from bringing to mind karaoke, the full impact of live music is again diminished.
There’s also a case for live music performed by professionals, whether choir, string quartet or guitar-strumming solo-singer. Sure, the passive act of sitting down and listening to a performance doesn’t seem much different to doing the same for a recording. The difference is again that the musicians are sharing the moment. The chosen music might be universal but the rendition, flaws and all, is for the dead person and those present.
Footnote: I chose the image above of the iconic Glenn Gould as he exemplifies a pianist who brought his own unique style to music by the greats such as Bach. As the film below shows, Gould reminds us that the scores of composers are not diktats set in stone but are guides for artists who surprise with their interpretations of mood. Ironically, this cool, solitary genius hated performing concerts, preferring to record in a studio.