Skip to main content

The Essential Always Remains Invisible

A few days ago, I went to a memorial service at the Music Institute of Chicago, in Evanston, which is in a fine temple-style Christian Scientist building not far from the campus of Northwestern University:


I was there to commemorate Gertrude Grisham, the mother of a dear friend of my wife Patty who died recently (Gertrude, that is) at the age of 87. Gertrude was a remarkable woman who was born in Austria, came to the States in the 1950s, and then had a career of notable achievements, perhaps the chief one being her decades long post as diction coach for the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The deep affection and gratitude of the musicians who were helped by her was in full evidence on Wednesday night. The Orion Ensemble played two of Gertrude's favourite pieces of chamber music (by Mozart and Mahler), and no fewer than 60 singers from the Chorus took to the stage to sing Brahms and then Handel. There were moving speeches by family and friends, and Austrian wine to drink in the lobby afterwards.

I met her a couple of times at the Steans Institute in Ravinia, which is the summer program of chamber music and vocal master classes that takes places at the same time as the famous music festival. A college friend of mine who is a classical pianist was one of the accompanists, and I would go up to Ravinia to hear him play. When I told Gertrude that my friend was playing, she said something like "Delightful!", and then a little smile appeared on her lips, and she said: "Watch what he does when he first takes the stage: he always adjusts the stool, no matter what." 

The bell sounded, the audience took their seats, the lights dimmed, and the singer and my friend walked onstage. Sure enough, as he sat at the piano, he leaned first to one side and the other to adjust the height. At that moment, Gertrude turned round to face me, a sly smile on her lips again, and she just nodded slowly. 

It's a moment of humour and warmth that I will never forget.

And how marvellous that she was sent off into the Underworld to the sounds of music, the greatest art, and by Viennese composers, its greatest practitioners. Few of us would be fortunate enough to be eulogized in such a manner. 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.


A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Artist-Writer-Artist: Gerard Woodward

I am extremely pleased that poet and author Gerard Woodward agreed to be interviewed for this series. Gerard and my wife, Patty, were colleagues for a short while at the end of 2008, when Patty taught for one semester at Bath Spa University, where Gerard is a faculty member in the Creative Writing program. Gerard spent the spring semester of 2011 in Chicago on a reciprocal visit. Gerard has published poetry, short-stories, and novels. "Householder", his 1991 collection of poetry, won the Somerset Maugham Award in the UK, and his novel "I'll Go to bed at Noon" was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Of his most recent novel, "Nourishment", The Daily Telegraph reviewer wrote: "It is a novel to be savoured, and Woodward is a novelist to be treasured." It turns out that in addition to his success as a writer, Gerard started his adult life in art college, and still draws and paints when he can. So here, from a writer's point of view…