Colin Eatock (BMus’82) says composing is his central musical
activity. “I chose to be a composer. I’m always writing something and trying to
get it performed somewhere.”
He’s successful as a composer, but he also has success in several other fields. This summer saw the release of Colin Eatock: Chamber Music, and his latest book, Remembering Glenn Gould. Add music critic, editor and teacher, and you begin to see a better picture of his abilities.
A scan of his bio shows how he forged these skills. At Western, Eatock studied composition with Alan Heard, Arsenio Giron and Peter Paul Koprowski. “One semester R. Murray Schafer was a guest instructor and I was able to attend his classes. I found his ideas engaging.”
He then went to McMaster to earn a master’s degree in the then-new music criticism program. At the University of Toronto, he earned another master’s in composition and a doctoral in musicology.
Eatock worked for the Canadian Opera Company for 10 years as an editor, publicist and fundraiser. The position also gave him knowledge for composing. “I got to know singers and how they practise their craft, and got a feel for it. It gave me an affinity for writing for voice,” he said.
His music has been performed and broadcast across Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The new CD of his six chamber pieces was made by 15 musicians. One track was recorded in von Kuster Hall with faculty members Anita Krause and Thomas Wiebe and alumnus Ian Robertson. “The CD is of small pieces and a mixture of vocal and instrumental chamber music,” said Eatock. “I tend to alternate between writing a piece with text to one without text. They offer different challenges. In one, you take a poem and work with a pre-existing model and build an idea around it. With the other, you’re looking at a blank canvas. There is no blueprint from another source.”
Eatock writes frequently for the Globe and Mail and Houston Chronicle, and is a contributor to Opera Canada, Queen’s Quarterly and The Wholenote in Canada; The New York Times, Amedican Record Guide, Early Music America and Strings in the U.S.; and BBC Music, The Strad, Opera, Musical Opinion and International Piano in the U.K.
His first book was Mendelssohn in Victorian England, which evolved from his doctoral dissertation.
Remembering Glenn Gould: Twenty Interviews With People Who Knew Him was triggered by an interview with impresario Walter Homburger for Queen’s Quarterly. “I thought, why stop there – there must a lot of people who knew Gould.” Eatock also thought he’d better start because most of them were not young. “I started contacting them and most were happy to do so. It’s an interesting collection of people who knew him professionally in various capacities or personally. They include critic Robert Fulford, who grew up with Gould, CBC and Columbia recording technicians and Cornelia Foss, wife of Lukas Foss. “She was reluctant to be interviewed at first but I persuaded her because not much has been written about their relationship.” (Cornelia left Lukas for Gould for several years.) Others include John Beckwith, Stuart Hamilton, Anton Kuerti, Jaime Laredo, William Littler and Margaret Pascu.
“I found that their memories of him were as fresh and vivid as the last day they saw him. What soon becomes apparent, through these testimonials, are the remarkable contrasts in Gould’s character. He was many things to many people: outgoing or reserved, serious or comical, humble or egotistical, unworldly or down to earth – the list goes on and on.”
The book was launched as part of the Stratford Summer Music series in August.
Gould seems a fitting subject for Eatock, who is also many things to many people. And he enjoys the variety of his activities. “I work at pieces in fits and starts, at my own pace and schedule. I need something else to do. Writing about music is that something.”
He thinks the role of music critic has changed significantly in the past 50 years. “The chief role today is to maintain a public discourse about classical music. It is losing its placec in mainstream Western culture. Newspapers and radio stations are cutting back their coverage because they do not see a broad interest in it. People need to write about classical music and find a place to write about it to put it before the public. That’s the main purpose.”
As a composer, his influences are 20th century. “I’m a big fan of Shostakovich. I like George Crumb’s delicacy and intimacy in much of what her writes. And I like Olivier Messiaen harmonc language.”
While not starting with commissions makes it a challenge to have his work performed, Eatock prefers writing what he wants. He tells the story of asking a well-known Canadian composer when was the last time she wrote a piece just because the idea came to her and she wanted to write. He said she looked at him as if he was crazy.
“As a teenager, I decided being a composer was the most splendid thing one could be. So I’m trying to be one.”
Canadian Music Centre for scores and CD: