Tuesday, November 30, 2010



The piano notes poured over me like I was under a waterfall in Cottage Country. I relaxed and enjoyed with all my cares drowned by the music.
Then I heard it. Some damn person was humming to Chopin. It's bad enough when Toronto Symphony patrons crinkle programs or candy wrappers as if they were home on the couch. Or when they comment loudly to companions during lulls. But some idiot near me was humming to the chords, and I wasn't even sure they were on key.
I sit in the front row at Roy Thomson Hall in the seat closest to the soloists. I outlined the history of my tickets in a blog on Sept. 1, 2009 titled Erich Kunzel's Amazing Memory. (I told then of actually playing with the TSO and conducting it in very, very brief moments. I was tempted to inform the snotty usher of that when she told me recently to take my program off the stage edge as I stood during a break because that was only for, and she paused theatrically, "the artists.")
From my vantage point, I know which soloists sing in bare feet under the evening gown. I watch the hairs of the bows fray as the players saw away. Pianist tend to stare right into my eyes as they play. I'm so close that I can see that string players all wear their rings on the right hand.
I wondered during the humming if conductor Peter Oundjian ever felt compelled to turn and glare and hold a shushing finger to his lips. After all, he asks patrons to keep their coughing down when a record is being made of a performance.
I looked closely at the pianist, Andreas Haefliger, as he tinkled and pounded his way through Frederic Chopin's Piano Concert No. 2 in F Minor, OP. 21. Would the humming intrude on him despite his fierce concentration?

I don't know whether it was in the Larghetto or the Allegro vivace parts when I figured out that it was the esteemed pianist himself who was doing the humming. Then Mary confirmed that as the intermission began.
I'm sure there are classical experts who have many examples of musicians getting so wrapped in the music that they feel compelled to vocally egg on their instruments. I'm not a music expert, just a lover. I have trouble keeping track of composers and their works. But even I remember Glenn Gould, the eccentric genius from Toronto, who rebelled from concert performances and became the introverted control freak of studio recordings. Despite the care he took with every note, he became notorious for the singing and muttering that accompanied his playing. Just listen to his recordings of The Goldberg Variations which launched and then secured his world fame. You can hear him muttering over the Steinway keyboard from his slouched perch in that battered sawed-off chair.
I was tempted to call up to Haefliger, who has made some popular recordings too, and ask after his bows if he was aware of his muttering and did it encourage him. However,
in the formal structured world of classical music, where, for example, junior players never dare talk to the conductor god, such impertinence on a mere patron's part may have led to a lifetime ban.
As I write, I'm listening to Classical 96.3FM which hasn't yet been ruined by the incessant promotion of its owner, Moses Znaimer. It appears that the staff's pay is based on just how many plugs they can voice on air for Znaimer and his prospering CARP empire. (I wrote about this on Dec. 8, 2009 under the logical title of Carping About CARP.)
One of the good changes under Znaimer is listeners can request their favourite music. It's Bill's Classical Juke Box. A man just phoned in to Bill Anderson, said he was blind and that his guide dog loved baroque music. Could the station play any baroque music that it wanted because the guide dog hadn't indicated a favourite?
What a nice moment to listen to some nice music being played mainly for a dog. Later there was a comment on air about another guide dog that liked to hum. I missed the wonderful details about the public reaction as the dog led his master around and hummed happily.
As a kid reporter, I did my share of being dispatched to listen when readers phoned in to say they owned a dog that could sing. Some did... a bit. Then there were singing dogs, supposedly, on the Ed Sullivan show. I can recall that my friend, Ralph Pohlman, the irascible psychiatrist, had a wonderful dog which actually did sound like it was singing even before I had a few rums
Whether a dog is humming or singing or growling is really something that each listener has to determine for themselves. As someone has said, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then the noise from an animal is in the ear of the beholder. On my recent visit to Romania, I never did get a chance to interview one of those dogs that Romanians claim are humming and others think are giving muffled growls.
I like my sounds straight up. Dogs should bark and pianists play and if they want to do a little freelancing when it comes to utterances, all they will get from me is surprise that they didn't stick to the conventional script. Of course Glenn Gould is the exception!

No comments: