The Maestro is a novel for young adults by Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones. Published in 1996, it is the story of Burl Crow, a teenaged boy who flees his dysfunctional and abusive family, in the process meeting a musical genius who changes his life forever. Nathaniel Orlando Gow is a bit of an eccentric, but he lets Burl stay in his cabin after he runs away from home.
My favourite teacher read it to us when I was in the sixth grade. I had my own copy and followed along as she read. It was a good book, though I didn't think much about it until more than 15 years later when I was reading a biography of Canadian piano legend Glenn Gould. Gow's professed preference for recording over performing live had stayed in the back of my mind over the nearly 17 years since I'd been exposed to the book, as had his early sketchwork for an oratorio based on the book of Revelation. The former sprung back to mind as I was reading about Gould; when the biography noted that Gould himself had planned the latter, I laughed out loud. Some quick search engine research on The Maestro confirmed that Wynne-Jones had modeled Gow on old Glenn.
The e-reader version of The Maestro was only a couple of bucks, so I downloaded it and read it again. It would be more accurate to say that Wynne-Jones didn't so much model Gow on Gould as he made Gould a character in his novel and then changed his name. Everything about Gow came from Gould: the rejection of live performance, the preference for the recording studio, the plans for the oratorio, the fondness for Arrowroot cookies, the fingerless gloves, the propensity for taking on fictional personas complete with voice acting and accents, the scrambled eggs, the admiration of the works of Orlando Gibbons, the tendency to pop pills, the one published composition (a string quartet, at that). Gow's home base is even the same Toronto neighbourhood Gould lived in. Not least of all, Gow, like Gould, died suddenly. (It happens early in the novel so I hardly think it counts as a spoiler.)
The problem with reading novels for young adults as a less-young adult is that the novels end so quickly, without much in the way of character development or plot intricacies. The Maestro is a fine novel for young adults, though after developing a taste for epic novels it seems clipped and short. (I kept having to remind myself that it's meant for kids.)
Gould would have turned 80 in the fall of 2012. To mark the occasion, the CBC dug out a myriad of his recorded performances, documentaries and interviews. I was recently listening to one of the interviews, recorded when Gould was 27 — my age. He mentioned his plans for the second half of his life, obviously oblivious to the fact that he would die shortly after turning 50 and was already into the second half of his life. All that did was reinforce the fact that if there are things you want to do, do them now. There might not be a later. And so I've been trying to.
I guess The Maestro will always be special to me because, in that sense, Glenn Gould changed my life, too.