Gould treasure rediscovered at Williamson

Grade 5 and 6 students in Williamson Road Public School’s glee choir rehearse with a performance of former student Glenn Gould’s Our Gifts. The song was written by the latterly famous composer at age 10, to raise money for Canada’s Junior Red Cross. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

He had a budgie named Mozart. His goldfish were Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Haydn.

As a boy growing up in the Beach, Glenn Gould left plenty of clues he might have a future in music.

One was rediscovered this October, when a former classmate of his came to the centennial at Williamson Road Junior Public School with a copy of Our Gifts – a song Gould wrote for the school back when he was a student there, in 1943.

On May 30, Grade 5 and 6 students in the school’s glee choir sang it in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre for the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award Gala.

“It’s astonishing that a child could write this, with the right theory, at age ten,” said Sheila Brand, a music and drama teacher who leads the Williamson choir.

“I think it’s a gem.”

Grade 5 and 6 students in Williamson Road Public School’s glee choir rehearse with a performance of former student Glenn Gould’s Our Gifts. The song was written by the latterly famous composer at age 10, to raise money for Canada’s Junior Red Cross. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Grade 5 and 6 students in Williamson Road Public School’s glee choir rehearse with a performance of former student Glenn Gould’s Our Gifts. The song was written by the latterly famous composer at age 10, to raise money for Canada’s Junior Red Cross.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Written for piano and a choir of boys and girls, Our Gifts is a patriotic song, with a military rhythm and lots of bold double chords for the left hand.

Biographer Kevin Bazzana called it “march-like and full of Edwardian pomp.”

The lyrics, which it seems Gould also wrote, start:

We are the boys, we are the girls of all the Public Schools

We have a Red Cross job to do, to furnish all the tools

Besides performing it, the school originally sold copies of the song for 10 cents each, with proceeds going to Canada’s Junior Red Cross. feat-Williamson Road students sing Glenn Gould-9256

“It was right in the middle of the war,” said Brand, and the Junior Red Cross, which started in Saskatchewan in 1917, was by then a huge student campaign all across Canada.

During the 1939 to 1945 war, which coincided with Gould’s time at the school, students at Williamson sold $12,301 in stamps and war bonds — enough to build a Fleet Cornell training plane with ‘The Williamson’ painted on its nose as a thank-you.

Principal Brian Svenningsen said that tradition of community involvement runs deep at Williamson, and continues today.

After a parent involved with the Governor General’s awards heard the song at Williamson’s winter concert, a group of parents donated their own time and money so that 41 students could sing it in Ottawa.

“I think this just goes hand in glove with what the school has always been,” said Svenningsen.

“I really feel that we’re a community school.”

In Ottawa, the choir performed Our Gifts during a tribute to actor R.H. Thomson. Besides playing Glenn Gould in David Young’s play Glenn, Thomson co-created a 2007 vigil for soldiers who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and wrote and performed a solo play, The Lost Boys, based on letters written by his five great-uncles during the First World War.

Brand said it’s fitting to sing Glenn Gould’s song at the tribute for Thomson, and not only because of the war connection.

Asked why she is a fan of his music, Brand said, “I’m an actor at heart, and I like the fact that Gould took masters like Bach and made them his own.”

“He didn’t necessarily adhere to ‘classical music has to be played this way,’” she added. “His interpretative skills were through the roof.”


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