My Life on Earth and Elsewhere
Music is central to many of R. Murray Schafer’s memories. ‘One of the sounds that I’d almost forgotten until I began to write this chronicle was the tinkling of the piano keys when my mother used to wipe them with a wet cloth,’ he writes. ‘In the early years the high and low keys would be passed over quite quickly while the middle notes got the heavy scrubbing.’ The detail of this small, nearly-forgotten childhood memory is a poignant example of the way sounds can remain present in the imagination even when they are originated in the distant past.
Schafer recounts childhood summers spent in Manitoba lassoing gophers (and being paid two cents a head for them) and a music education marked by his cheerful but total resistance to the conventional instruction that was available. His youthful travels in Germany, France, Austria, Italy and Eastern Europe are recreated in a lively, impressionist style with plenty of comic and melancholy stories gleaned from his diaries of the time, including an account of a folk music convention in Communist Romania (which he attended with imaginative but shaky credentials identifying him as a representative of the CBC, The Globe and Mail, the University of Toronto Press and even the Kiwanis Club). The conference proving dull, Schafer eluded the government minders and took an unauthorized trip to see a girl he had met on the train, and despite knowing nothing of the language spent an idyllic few days with her at her parents’ remote village -- while the police questioned every young man with a beard in the area of Bucharest in a fruitless search for the suspected ‘spy.’
On his return to Canada, teaching assignments took him first to Newfoundland, then to Vancouver, where he created the World Soundscape Project. In 1975 Schafer resigned from university teaching and for many years has devoted himself full time to writing and composing. My Life on Earth and Elsewhere continues the story of his domestic and international musical adventures up to the present day.
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