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OFF-KEY: A Dream

Glenn Gould’s Chair by Mandretta. 

Through sheets of rain, faint percussive sounds echo from the right. Though anxious, she follows the sound. She walks at a quick pace while the scenery passes slowly. She enters a corridor full of niches. One by one in an endless procession. Figures move about, in and out. The kaleidoscopic geometric pattern converges to form a solitary monk. A large owl sits upon his shoulder. The owl has unusually large talons and the face of Van Cliburn. She can’t fully understand the chanting. She turns back and the solitary monk is right behind her. He has no mouth, only a goatee-like beard. Faintly, he says, “I just walk and dig.”  She flees and bumps into a wall that propels her into a cavernous room. The owl swoops and taps her head. “I just walk and dig.” She motions her arms wildly. Her gaze fixes on the hole at the top of the ceiling – the ‘Oculus.’

Always in her head “I just walk and dig.” The light entering the ‘Oculus’ shifts throughout the room. More niches appear, and in each a monk pointing her from one niche to the next in a rhythmic scale of “I just walk and dig.” The cacophony pushes, crowding her towards the center. In one niche, a man sits composing. A wooden contraption stretches his fingers. Her eyes begin to water. Fear or dust induces her to cough and clear her throat. “Shut up. I’m improvising here. They don’t treat me that way in Yokahama.”  She is startled to see Keith Jarrett pacing and muttering and humming to himself. He circles around a short, wooden folding chair. Upon it an inscription: “[a] member of the family. A traveling companion without whom I cannot function, I cannot operate.” 

The monks walk toward this spectacle forcing her closer and closer to the chair… to Glenn Gould’s chair! As always “I just walk and dig,” but now the words resound in arpeggios. From an angle, Horowitz appears and throws off his robe. He shouts, “I can’t go on. I am on sabbatical.” To which the solitary monk replies by hurtling one of his many hats in the pianist’s direction. The chants grow stronger. Rubinstein now throws off his robe. He rushes up to Gould’s chair and smashes it with a violin. Bits of chair, string, and horsehair litter the floor. Martha Argerich casually walks up to her and whispers in Spanish: “Just play, Marlita.”

End Dream.

A cat licking her eye, the dreamer awakes. A bit of drool on the corner of her mouth. She thinks, “Ah, piano. It’s been seven years since my last lesson.”


…a man is not equally disposed to compose at all times; but it is wholly and rigorously true only for lazy and listless minds; the others know how to help themselves, to solicit Inspiration and force her to collaborate with them when it pleases them.

 Albert Lavignac (1927 – ), From Musical Education