As a young guitarist, I remember having clear simple goals: to play and perform the best new music for my instrument and to teach in a university setting. In those days some of those pieces were being written for Julian Bream such as the two sonatas based on Shakespearean characters by German composer Hans Werner Henze. Around the same time — late 70’s, there was word of a new Sonata by the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. For these works, there was a wait of several years because commissioning artists are given exclusive rights for a period of time. Then of course, there was the wait for the scores to be published. With Bream, there was always a long time as he added and changed fingerings and with the Ginastera, there was the need to finish the piece: the premiere performance involved some improvisation. Ginastera was patient and liked to see his pieces developed through live performance, before publishing.
One day a friend who worked at the Canadian office of Boosey and Hawkes invited me over for dinner and afterwards presented me with the score for the Ginastera piece. I was the first Canadian to get one, this music had come in as an advance copy and my friend knew I was waiting for it. This was the early ’80s, and I studied the piece for a few years before putting it on my concert programs and recording it with the crew at CBC’s “Music Around Us”.
I had to purchase the score for the Henze, and did so after finding it at an international guitar festival in Toronto. To my surprise, the first sonata had no time signatures for the entire 35 minutes duration. This worried me, so I looked at the second sonata, which was shorter with movements titled “Sir Andrew Aguecheek”, “Bottom’s Dream”, and “Mad Lady Macbeth”. This seemed much more approachable and I was able to perform it many times with an actor friend who did monologues from the appropriate plays. Later, I was pleased to record it for CBC with the team from the show “Two New Hours”.
One day, a few weeks after playing a concert and teaching a Masterclass at Queen’s University, I got a phone call from the head of the music department asking if I would be interested in applying for the guitar teaching job. It seemed the incumbent was retiring. Sending off my CV and being excited filling out the necessary paperwork, I wound up teaching there for thirteen years. Not yet thirty, I had achieved some of my biggest goals.
Now that I am over sixty, it is quite a different picture. I remember that young man and those passionate goals. What is left to dream about, can we ever capture that passion again? Where to go next?
One of the answers came to me as I watched the documentary “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown.” This film focuses on the band that played on all those hits, who called themselves “The Funk Brothers”. They were an amazing band with extraordinary gifts for collaborative work. There were three keyboard players, three guitar players and two drum kit players, with at least two hand drummers.
As I watched the film, there came a scene in the song “Heatwave”, right after the baritone sax solo when a drummer wearing a hat played a fill. His body language showed pure joy as he brought the band and singer back in. His sense of happiness was so strong it brought tears to my eyes. [See 1:55 in video below]
That Howard Richard “Pistol” Allen died from cancer two months after the film was shot makes that scene all the more poignant. It was an ecstasy that overcame disease for those moments. At age 69, the viewer might conclude his expressions belonged to a six-year-old. Through all of life’s trials, the joy of playing and sharing music with others remained vital and special.
That is what I want to look ahead to — from now on it is all about the fun.