Sunday, December 23, 2018

One Year in the Studio, part 3

After high school I was really at loose ends--it was one of the worst times of my life, so pointless that I would sleep in until noon and get up not having a single goal. I worked sporadically at weird jobs like digging clams ( eight cents a pound as I recall), and picking salal, a small ornamental shrub that grows wild in British Columbia. It is used in floral arrangements.

As I recall, a friend and I spent a whole week gathering the shrub and earned a splendid $40. So, not a promising career! Actual jobs were limited to planting trees in the mountains of Vancouver Island, which builds strong legs at $4 an hour, and working as a laborer for a stuccoer which paid about the same, but was closer to home. Planting trees means you are an eight-hour drive on logging roads from the nearest traffic light.

The only two things in my life of any promise were the discovery of classical music and a slowly awakening interest in philosophy. I recall at one point I was bunking on a small ship anchored in one of the inlets on the Western side of Vancouver Island, planting trees during the day and reading A Hundred Years of Philosophy in the evening.

The summer I was working for the stuccoer I decided I had to make a change in my life. Some friends who attended university had got me thinking that might be an option. I managed to save up $1,000 and there seemed to be three ways to spend it: go to university, buy an upright piano and do some composing or buy a secondhand Jaguar automobile. I noticed one in the paper for $1,000. I ended up at university, likely the best choice. I remember the first time I visited the library, six floors not counting the basement where the listening library was. I stood there looking around in amazement thinking to myself "I will NEVER read all these books!"

Due to advice from various people, I enrolled in the music education program. An audition was required, which I wasn't aware of, so when I showed up at the music department without my instrument the conducting professor dragged me into a practice room and tested my musical aptitude. "Sing this note. Sing this note. Sing this interval. Is this a major or minor chord?" That was about it. If you know what to listen for a simple little test like this can tell you a lot. Music education didn't really work for me so in second year I switched to the music department proper as a music history major. They did not have a guitar teacher, so I had no real choice.

My real goal was still to become an accomplished classical guitarist so I did not go on into third year. Instead, after working for six months for the Ministry of Education (a desk job in statistics), during which time I was commuting to Vancouver on Saturdays for guitar lessons, I decided to go to Spain to continue my studies. This was on the advice of my teacher in Vancouver, a fellow from Holland who had done the same. The place to go was Alicante and the maestro was José Tomás, a student of and assistant to the great Andrés Segovia.

A fairly young José Tomás playing his eight-string guitar
I made the trip, my first outside Canada, in January of 1974 and stayed there for most of a year. That year is the One Year in the Studio that the post title refers to and it has shaped my life.

As an envoi, here is my recording of a vals venezolano by Lauro with some photos from around that time.


Will Wilkin said...

It seems you found your way and have stayed with it. The way to go far is to stay moving in the same direction. I have changed direction so many times, I've thrown away a few educations and careers (and marriages), as if living a series of short lives rather than a continuous long one. But this time with my violin and viol and choral singing, I feel like I will stay on the path of musicianship the rest of my life, so hopefully I'll eventually at least be able to play as a a competent amateur someday.

Bryan Townsend said...

I have certainly lived in a lot of different places, but once I discovered music, it has been a common thread in my life. Thanks for continuing to read the blog. Recordings of two new pieces with violin will appear in the near future.

Will Wilkin said...

Your story gives me hope, Bryan...not sure if the hope is for my son (now a bit like the youth you describe in yourself) or just for myself, but I hope it is for him, who is sometimes the only reason I still live.

Bryan Townsend said...

I always wonder at people who say they have "no regrets!" Really, none? I have loads of regrets, but one in particular is that I never had any children. It wasn't from lack of opportunity, rather from disinclination. So be grateful, Will, that you have a son. And may he have a wonderful life.