Breathing Life

The end of a long week nears: A week full of changes and hard conversations, with more to come before the week is over. I feel exhausted and drained. The rain is pouring down outside. I am cold. I hardly have two thoughts to rub together, and I long for nothing more than to hide in my bedroom, safe and alone, and close the door against the coming morning.
So naturally I am writing a public blog post.
About Glenn Gould.
I am listening right now to Glenn Gould’s famous 1955 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on a pair of headphones. This recording is not what most people expect from classical music. If you’ve never heard it, it is quite something. Gould’s performance, which is remarkable (intense, contemplative), is only about half of what is so outstanding about it. So many classical recordings are precise and sanitized almost to the point of sterility. But the best ones are vital, messy, alive; they stutter and stumble in unexpected ways, they breathe, they have a fragile, beating heart. There may be fewer recordings more alive than this one. This recording literally breathes: you can hear it. Audible above the piano and the old analog tape hiss, easier to hear on good speakers or headphones, there it is: the sound of Glenn Gould himself, sighing, humming, whispering, not at all part of what Bach wrote but in and of the music all the same, his voice and breath coaxing and cajoling the piano to bring forth the sound trapped within it. Listening to it for me feels like being caught in that impossibly fragile space between the artist and what she creates, the space in which things do not so much get made as come to pass, timeless and yet unrepeatable. It is an incredibly intimate recording.
I think of Glenn Gould tonight because I think he is trying to tell me something I need to hear. Sometimes I feel that what I do well, I do well in spite of myself; that my work is well done just to the extent that I am able to suppress in it whatever marks me out as a contingent, identifiable person. But listening to Glenn Gould calls that out as folly.
So, tonight I rest and draw in breath, the more to breathe life into something tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Breathing Life

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