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Party Photos of the Week: Glenn Gould Prize Gala Concert
Published Friday, May. 18, 2012 1:47PM EDT
Last updated Friday, May. 18, 2012 2:15PM EDT
Glenn Gould Prize Gala Concert: Leonard Cohen was in the spotlight as guests feted the ninth laureate of the coveted arts prize
Sam Santos photographs Leonard Cohen
Circling the World with Leonard Cohen
By Murray Charters
Friday, May 18, 2012 9:24:56 EDT PM
Our lives move in circles. The circles get larger; the circles get smaller; the circles collide with others and sometimes the sun comes out and sometimes the moon weeps.
It's finding the centre of your own circle and keeping that balance which leads to those moments of deep understanding from which art is made. Leonard Cohen spoke of it as being "in the centre of your own orbit" in a 1966 interview with Adrienne Clarkson in her previous incarnation as host extraordinaire on CBC-TV's Take 30.
By that time Cohen was already celebrated as a novelist and poet, and was creating the visual art which he would reveal to the world only in 2006 and put on display in a Vancouver gallery last year. In other words, even in his early 30s Cohen was sharing with the world various manifestations of his deep, balanced understanding of the human spirit.
In other words, Cohen's circle has always been large. A Canadian poet, he doesn't write about Canada, just human beings on planet Earth. As a Jew born in Montreal he uses Christian metaphors to lead us to the places and the peace his Zen Buddhism has revealed.
Revealed is a good description of how Cohen works. He is frequently termed a troubadour, that romantic word from medieval France. But the word means a finder, a poet who wanders the world and finds what the rest of us don't (or won't) see.
No, I take that back. Truly we are all seekers-but sadly we are not all finders. Our imbalance, our off-centred lives prevent us from seeing what Cohen does. Fortunately he is both a finder and a giver, and we are blessed receivers.
By now we all know Cohen was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize for lifetime achievement in the arts earlier this week in Toronto and that he gave the $50,000 prize back to the Canada Council saying he was "profoundly grateful" for the council's support in launching his writing career. What an impressive, humble way to close that circle!
Not as widely known is that he designated Sistema, a program which offers free, intensive music education to children from culturally diverse neighbourhoods in Toronto, to receive the accompanying $15,000 Protégé Prize. Sistema is based on the Venezuelan program which produced conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the incredible Venezuelan Youth Orchestra.
David Visentin, artistic director of Sistema Toronto, got to the heart of Cohen's gift saying, "He is challenging talent to reveal itself in the years to come." There's that sense of finding and revealing again, and Cohen is a giver who shines the light of understanding on all he touches, revealing many layers of meaning particularly through his poetic writings.
Asked by Clarkson about the source of his poetry, Cohen says you can find poetry everywhere. "If you can make what your hand falls on sing, then you can just do it." Although Cohen meant "sing" as a metaphor, we all know how important music has become in his life. He has released 12 studio albums and there are several live recordings too.
But how does his music relate to his poetry? Perhaps one is just a natural extension of the other. Canada's poet laureate, Fred Wah, described Cohen reading his poetry in Buffalo in 1964: "The reading went smoothly, then he pulled out his guitar!"
Cohen's music envelopes his poetry and wafts it into our souls to surface as souvenirs of times, places, people, feelings, life. He keeps the melodies and harmonies simple enough to retain a true folk quality, simple enough to trick us into thinking we are all good singers.
Even Cohen himself. But he's too honest for that, and gently laughed at us for his 1993 Juno for "Male Vocalist of the Year". Let's say his voice is unique.
It's not just the uniqueness of his voice which drives so many musicians to cover his songs, however. It's the quality of the music and the richness of the words. There's one song in particular which didn't do all that well when Cohen released it in 1984 but has been so spectacularly covered that Cohen himself has asked for a moratorium.
So I can't mention its name, but you all know it. The music is obsessive and the words are magnificently full of undefined meaning. They definitely mean something profound, something about our struggle with relationships both human and spiritual, but all we can take away ultimately is the beautiful sadness of the long road we take in learning how to get along.
This agreeable ambiguity led to the first great cover, by John Cale in 1991, then the gold standard by Jeff Buckley in 1994, and many more including the deeply sensitive k.d.lang. The settings vary but the noble arch of Cohen's melody, rising inexorably to that passionate, reverent, irreverent exclamation of the title wins us every time. He complements the melody with chords which gently rock in innocence, avoiding the end until it can be avoided no longer.
Music moves in circles, large and small ones, starting here and finishing at a there which is still here. The circle of this song is small and huge, embracing us in its very human message.
The circle of Cohen's life keeps expanding, too, embracing all who listen. He told Clarkson "I'm not interested in posterity," and continued to create the anthems of our lives.
Murray Charters (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a musician, teacher and writer in Brantford who imbibes a bit of Cohen now and zen.
lizzytysh wrote:Jack Lazariuk posted this on Anjani's site. With his permission, I'm posting it here."A Night to Remember"...Basia Bulat was next singing If It Be Your Will. I had not heard of her before nor do I know the kind of instrument she was playing
Charangos - The South American Super Ukulele!: chords, strumming and picking, stringed instruments, rhythm playing.
holydove wrote:Linda, thank you for posting the wonderful article by Murray Charters - it's beautifully written & says it all!! I love it.
How wonderful and well deserved Arlene.
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