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Book Review: THE STRATFORD LECTURES Ten Perspectives about Music by ROBERT HARRIS - a must-read for thoughtful music-lovers!

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 22nd 2018

One of Ontario’s premier summer music festivals has for many years been that of Stratford. And since 2012, the Stratford Summer Music Festival has been fortunate to have Robert Harris, the “noted music critic, teacher, broadcaster and author”, delivering insightful, personal lectures annually. These lectures have offered music lovers refreshing and thoughtful commentary on the music audiences would be hearing in the concert hall. But they did more than that. They offered listeners well-researched arguments for the influence of music and musicians on the wider world of music and society. From his own personal acquaintances with artists such as Glenn Gould and Murray Schafer as well as his own broad musical knowledge, he turned these lectures into ‘must-attend’ events.


For several years, John Miller, Artistic Director of the Stratford Summer Music Festival, encouraged Harris to compile some of his lectures into a book. THE STRATFORD LECTURES Ten Perspectives about Music by Robert Harris is the result. Ten of his lectures became ten chapters offering perspectives on such diverse topics as Elvis Presley and Chopin. The easy-reading book was one I couldn’t put down except to listen to the suggested musical examples.

In each chapter, one is left feeling not only that Harris has an authoritative understanding of the subject, but also a sense of its significance to a wider world. He shows in the first chapter how Elvis changed the world with a single piece of music, inventing rock and roll, “still, almost seventy years later, the dominant musical language on the planet”.

And so, as each chapter unfolds, one is left with new understandings of Gospel music and equally fresh perspectives of R. Murray Schafer and Fryderyk Chopin, two composers generally looked upon as composers of a new age, but whom Harris argues were composers rooted in the past. He discusses Carmen in a way that makes one think of her as more than the seductress or temptress, as a courageous, powerful hero. It’s not easy to find new insights into works as familiar and often-performed as Carmen. Harris sees it as a thesis on ‘love’.

Harris is at his best when he talks about his long-time friend, Glenn Gould. Gould is mentioned in more than one chapter. In the chapter ‘The Goldberg Variations; Pinnacle or Exercise”, Harris discusses Gould’s three-yes three- recordings of the work.

In the two final chapters, Harris discusses important contributions of Canada to the wider world of music and the significance of the CBC to Canada’s cultural life. The familiar names of Paul Anka, Celine Dion, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell sit alongside less popular but profoundly influential ones like Walter Homburger, Helmut Blume and Franz Kraemer. The story of how these latter three names came from Jewish refugee camps to become significant figures in Canada’s musical history is inspiring. The final chapter, the role of the CBC in Canadian society past and present gives Harris a chance to voice his concern for the national broadcaster at which he spent 40 years.

This book is more than just an interesting and riveting read. It speaks from an informed and literate  Canadian perspective with eloquence and passion.

THE STRATFORD LECTURES Ten Perspectives about Music by Robert Harris can be found at www.stratfordsummermusic.ca or is available by calling 519.271.2101 ext. 3 or visiting:
Stratford Summer Music office, 25 Ontario Street, 2nd Floor, Fanfare Books, 92 Ontario Street,
Stratford Festival Theatre Stores (Festival and Avon Theatres).
$24.95 + gst (for mail deliveries additional shipping and handling fees apply)