MS. I had an interesting conversation with Peter de Soto about how he
felt when he first learnt the song himself. Are you a poet as well?
GM. Well, I am a songwriter. Its not poetry, per se, but I certainly
wrote a lot of songs in the late 70s, when I played in a folk trio. In
fact this song dates from that period. I think I wrote it in '79. when
my then girlfriend, now wife was across the Atlantic from me.
MS. And she obviously gave you the words you wanted.
MS. Then the song should be the 'word that I want' - which is 'yes'.
So it has been unrecorded all of this time?
GM. Unrecorded! Unrecorded love.
MS. There you go!
GM. It was great, actually, for me to get a chance to have it recorded.
Peter sings it really beautifully and it worked out really well with the
instrumentation that is available in Quartetto Gelato - English horn,
bass accordion, and guitar. I originally wrote it for voice and piano.
The transcription worked pretty well for the instruments we have.
MS. I think this is a much more contemporary sound too. You say you are
not a poet but a songwriter. I find poet and songwriter to be an almost
indistinguishable role. Do you actually write with a view to putting the
song into song phrasing with a melody already in mind?
GM. Some aspect of the melody comes first, but then writing the words
takes over. I guess I would have to say it is pretty simultaneous. If
the beginning, if a melody gets my interest then I'll start thinking of
words and that will effect how the melody works.
MS. I wanted to ask you about the role of the cello. Have you been playing
the cello a long time?
GM. I started playing guitar and cello about the same time, when I was
MS. The reason I ask is this song sounds so right with the cello mood
- with those sweeping sounds. Do you think you are using the cello phrasing
when you are creating songs, which are more than the rhythmic, percussive
style of the guitar sounds?
GM. No. I think that is true of this song, but I've written other songs
that are extremely up-tempo and raucous, and that sound much more like
folk or country songs.
MS. Even just linking image phrases - images magnified. Would you say
he is one of your favourite mentors?
GM. Oh! Absolutely. Not only because of the stuff that he did in the
60s, but I recently found a compilation of his songs in a shop about three
years ago. I was just amazed at how clever his songs were.
MS. He is also one of my heroes. I heard recently that he has left the
Zen monastery that he had been in for about five years and is working
on a new recording now. Can you imagine how exciting that will be?
GM That is something to look forward to.
MS. Are there any other songwriters that you feel so strongly for?
GM. I have a tremendous respect for Paul Simon, from the past to the
present, although I don't write songs like his. He is really amazing at
putting spoken idiom into songs. He is a very thoughtful lyric writer
and writes beautiful tunes as well. He is just very clever.
I also talked to Peter de Soto about the quality of the spoken song as
opposed to the operatic song. He talked about the stillness your song
engenders, the intimacy and the introverted expression that it has. You
have obviously thought about that too. What are your thoughts about that
quality in spoken word style songs? We unfortunately class it as the folk
idiom but it is really like singing poetry.
GM. I spent a lot of time singing folk and country music. I played in
a folk trio in the late 70s, and all the stuff that I sang in high school
through university and afterwards was America folk music, not so much
English folk music. That was partly because of the contact I had with
English Folk music, apart from people like Bert Jansch and Pentangle.
By the time I got to it, the traditional folk music had been published
in books and was mostly songs like, "Flow gently Sweet Afton"
and "Early One Morning," etc., songs that didn't sound so much
Where I am coming from, with the conception of a song, is much more that
folk tradition. And so for me what has been so exciting playing with the
quartet is to get a sense of how some of the more operatic songs work
and function. It comes down so much to text. You want a song to have a
single idea that coherently communicates. In my song writing, and my music
writing, I've used the simplest of means. I mean, sometimes I've written
songs that span a diminished 5th - a very narrow melodic movement. In
the song, Words That I Want I was deliberately playing with a narrow
melodic movement, but changing the harmonies underneath to make it more
complex than it is, while still preserving that static feel that the song
MS. That is very interesting that you should put it like that. Peter
describe it as stillness. I'd really like to draw that out a bit more.
I'm sure you audience would love to know more about the 'science' in your
thinking there. What brought you to that? Why do you like that static
GM. It was appropriate for the song. How do you write a song about being
unable to communicate? It can't be flashy. It can't be wildly exaggerated.
I made a conscious effort to use absolutely the simplest language. Like "The sun going down in the sky - gold and more gold in that blue."
MS. I was surprised at that.
GM. I mean there are obviously better ways of describing it, but here
I am having to describe something, but still convey that I am not describing
things the way I would or the way the woman I am writing about would describe
MS. That really captured the understated feel of the song. One of the
most powerful images in the song are the words "Like Clay on my eyelids,
your mouth on my mouth." How did you come up with those words?
GM. It is an image from the Bible, actually ...I spent a number of years
as a boy singing in my church choir. There is a miracle that Jesus performs
in which he takes clay, moistens it, and uses it to cure a woman of her
blindness. It has always seemed a very powerful image to me, and I guess
I was trying to suggest the parallel of a kiss restoring the ability to
I think the thing that would link all the songs that I have written would
be my conscious desire to use the simplest language that I can about real
issues. I wrote a song back in the 70's about the changing role of the
fiddle player in bands. The song originated when I heard a band in rural
Ontario, where the fiddle player came off the stage and said, "The
fiddle player never gets the girls." That was because with the introduction
of the electric guitar the fiddle tended to be forgotten. In a sense the
song described a situation that wasn't really true at the time I wrote
it, but that was about the change from the fiddle as the folk instrument
that was the most important thing at a dance to the tradition of more
rock or swing music where the fiddle was subsumed or lost in the mix.
With that song, I was just trying to write about real issues in the simplest
MS. I'd like to discuss your experience with the operatic song form.
Did Quartetto Gelato give you your first opportunity to explore the 'reason
for being' of opera?
GM. In a sense, yes. What has been exciting for me about this group is
that we all come from quite different backgrounds and we meet in this
space, where much of the repertoire for each of us is repertoire that
we have not been familiar with previously. So, we have this combination
of people, like Peter, who knows the operatic repertoire and has a strong
ideas about how it should go. With me, for example, I have a much more
popular music approach to singing. I think one of the strengths of the
group is we reach a space where, because of the instrumentation we use,
and the style in which it is presented, that operatic singing, which for
some people is less familiar, is presented in a way in which it can be
seen as a kind of pop music, as, indeed it is in Italy. These are glorious
tunes that everybody knows and everybody sings in Italy. Part of it comes
from the fact that most opera is sung in a foreign language. Opera is
really about beautiful melodies sung by as beautiful and pure a voice
I'm really inspired because, where I come from, country or folk music
is not necessarily about the most beautiful voices. Dylan was the first
to make that quite plain. Folk songs are text based. There are some very
beautiful tunes, but essentially, in terms of it being an oral tradition,
it is about people singing words. Where opera is about the beautiful voice
and the beautiful melody. The words, in fact, can have a secondary importance,
especially for people who don't understand them.
MS. If you look at people like Verdi, his themes had a powerful political
impact. In his time opera was a tremendously influential political vehicle
with a real grass roots power.
GM. Yes, in Italy, but today in North America, everybody loves 'O Solo
Mio' without understanding what the words are about. That is the difference.
So, for me what is so exciting, in terms of writing songs, is this idea
of trying to move more in that direction. I wrote a lot of songs between
1972 and 1980 and then I stopped because I was playing cello in symphony
orchestras and I just wasn't in that environment anymore. But now I am
thinking I can get back into this and think about how I can take what
I know about writing the lyrics for a song and add them to maybe a slightly
more complicated approach to melody. I have just been listening to the
Three Penny Opera, by Kurt Weil and Bertol Brecht -- the 1954 Broadway
production. It is a real ear opener, you might say. It is a very plain
text, and very clever. I don't mean to put those qualities on opposite
sides of the fence. I'm just saying that it is not full of verbal tricks,
it's just really plain and expressive - talking style. But then it goes
into really sophisticated harmonic and melodic devices, that almost fight
against the text sometimes.
MS. I love this almost bubbling excitement you are experiencing for this
transition you are making here. As they say, "follow your bliss." When you know you have got that, then you know you are going in that direction.
I'd like to hear more about this feeling you have for this path of discovery
you have embarked on -- and time doesn't matter to your obviously, because
some of the things you were interested in years ago are still intact today
and are still firing up your enthusiasm for the new directions you wish
GM. Well, not all of them are intact (peels of laughter).
MS. Sometime we have to wait a long time for the peripheral stuff to
fall away so that we can lift up our beautiful chalice in true fascination.
MS. I'd like to talk more about that. Where is the pulse at the moment,
GM. For me, my approach to music has always been sort of scattered. I
took a completely non-traditional approach as a musician. Specifically,
I took cello lessons when I was at public school, in high school, and
I also played guitar by ear. They were completely discrete ways of absorbing
music. With the cello I played what was on the page and with the guitar
I played what people showed me how to play, or I learned songs off records.
MS. How lucky you were to develop both paths.
GM. I really was lucky to develop both paths, and at the end of high
school I actually stopped taking cello lessons and went to university
for a couple of years, taking Chinese language and history. While I was
at university I spent all of my spare time playing guitar and someone
pointed this out to me. They said, "You're studying music, of course."
And I went, "No I'm in Chinese language and history." They said,
"But you spend all your time playing music." From this insight,
I thought this observation was something I should consider.
MS. I love the cello.
GM. It is a great instrument. One of the things that was great for me,
because my education was so backwards and incoherent, I'm still at a point
now, playing the cello, where I'm discovering what it means to play the
cello and how to play it as beautifully as I can. And one of the great
things about the quartet is that, for both my guitar playing and my cello
playing, it has been a tremendous opportunity to work hard, and to be
coached by people whom I respect. One of the things about working in the
quartet is that we are all trying to inspire each other to play as well
and as beautifully as we can, and so it is a voyage of discovery.
MS. You've answered both questions I had in mind there. But I still feel
I'd like to draw you out a bit more - to see if you can articulate some
of the feelings you have about the way you are pursuing the music. I see
you being a bit like a sheep dog herding a flock of sheep here, with all
of your interests, instrumentally and with the music styles you have been
into in the past.
GM. Well, what I would have to say, and this has been a strength and
a weakness, because I did realize, while I was spending that time playing
piano, that I really did need to be involved in music. That no matter
what else I was doing or how I was living, if I didn't have a musical
instrument I would be unhappy.
MS. I want to know if you can tell us about those feelings, because they
obviously loomed very large for you. They've guided you and they're still
guiding your passion and analysis of the music as you progress. This is
the difficult part - this is the part that poets work on, you know? Trying
to describe this insight, this feeling, this power that can't be denied.
GM. What's funny about this particular 'power that can't be denied' is
that some people very early on become very beautiful instrumentalists
or they have a glorious voice or an obvious facility with an instrument
and that is what leads them on. So, their approach to music is reinforced
by that. But for me it was sort of like being grabbed by the scruff of
the neck in my early twenties, at a time when I had been playing guitar,
but without any formal connection to music, when I just said to myself, "This is what you want to do - now how are you going to put yourself
in a position where you can do it." I had to go back to decide what
instrument it is that I wanted to do this on. That is different from a
lot of people's experience because they have the instrument and that instrument
comes first. I just knew what I wanted to do. I always say, when someone
asked me to come and play, I'd say yes first and then I would find out
which instrument they wanted me to play and what kind of music they were
MS. Do you have a particular philosophy you pursue or a particular kind
of literature you read, besides history? Do you like poetry?
GM. Recently I have been reading Dickens. The Dickens came because I
was required to read Oliver Twist at school and I really didn't
like it. In fact I just reread it to find out why I didn't like it.
MS. I have never heard of anyone reading a book twice to find out why
they didn't like it.
GM. Its because its one of these peculiar things that happen to me, --
that I will have an experience with a composer or an author and it will
colour all future experiences with the author. Dickens is phenomenal.
I've read four or five novels of his in the last two years. I am just
astonished at what he can do. So I go, "what is the problem with Oliver Twist?" I think the problem is that it is not a very
complicated story. Dickens can be incredibly sophisticated in his insight
into the way peoples' minds work and the way they justify their existence.
But Oliver Twist is really just a framework to hang Dicken's political
attitude about the workhouse and poverty. There are not many complicated
characters in Twist. They are put in there to act-through a point of view,
rather than seeming to be coherent characters. So I read that stuff, and
I just finished reading Harry Potter.
MS. I haven't read that. I'm told that I must read it.
GM. It's very impressive. In terms of poetry, Shakespeare's sonnets are
great. I don't read a lot of poetry, but Yeats is great. We played in
Galway two years ago, in the summer festival there. I was really pleased
to be able to walk in Yeats' foot-steps, so to speak, because we were
able to stop off at the estate of Lady Gregory, where he wrote much of
MS. That is interesting -- that you would like Yeats, given you interest
in the use of plain language, because, I think, while Yeats is most famous
for his efforts to capture unconscious perception through the metaphors
of the mythology, the mythology is only there as a vehicle for simple
language use to describe or conjure up what the unconscious can perceive
and bring to consciousness. I think it is really interesting that you
like that, in relation to your own interest in writing simple lyrics.
GM. I have thought about trying to set one of his poems to music, but
it is like approaching a tiger, because I don't want to screw it up. You've
got to approach his ideas with nervousness.
MS. It is good to keep ourselves on that edge. If you are touring all
the time, playing all the time, you can blunt that edge, I think, when
you get over your nervousness too easily.
GM. One of the things about the quartet is that we rehearse so hard that
we are always trying to push ourselves, and in a sense, there is a certain
kind of nervousness you lose but in another sense, because you know what
you are trying to do, there is always that edge.
MS. I like that. That is a nice insight. I think your audience will appreciate
that. While you get rid of the distraction of nervousness, you're able
focus your energy even more on that cutting edge, as it were.
GM. It's really important. Woody Allen cleverly compared relationships
to a shark. He is reputed to have said, "If a shark is not swimming
forward, it is dead." A shark doesn't sleep, it is always swimming,
apparently. But I think of that. Any project that you are in has got to
be moving forward.
MS. That is a very interesting little metaphor, because we know that
the brain never sleeps. We talk about not using our brain fully. This
work that you are doing, in keeping your skills and your focus honed,
is very good for the brain, in terms of pushing into creative territory
that you would never reach without a foundation that comes from almost
a 24 hour focus. So that even when you are asleep the residue of the work
you did while awake would keep the brain on target. That is very exciting.
GM. That can really be true.
MS. That is why I think it is important to talk to musicians and write
down exactly what they have to say, because they have so much to teach
us about escalating a heightened experience of life. The celebrity status
and the PR presentation create a facade which becomes a block. It is like
the barker at the entrance to the carnival calling everyone in to hear
you. The promoter's words are planted firmly in the people's minds when
they come to hear you play, often preventing access to understanding who
you are from your own point of view. I think it is important for musicians
to teach and lead by finding a way to explain or share insight into how
GM. It is true that people can look at anyone in this kind of endeavour
and think that it's a coherent whole that is presented, when, in fact,
it is always dynamic and whatever you see on any particular night is a
stage and a direction that people are moving in.