The Smell of Our Own

Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents - by Si­mon Borer

SI­MON BORER IS A MU­SI­CIAN, song­writer, poet and per­former orig­i­nally from RR #2 Ren­frew, ON. He cur­rently re­sides in Toronto, plays with his band En­tire Cities, and per­forms stand-up com­edy ex­clu­sively for his wife. For this edi­tion of Smell of Our Own, Si­mon agreed to in­ter­view his mom, who is also a mu­si­cian.

Com­ing from a ped­a­gog­i­cal back­ground, as well as be­ing steeped in folk tra­di­tions, wor­ship mu­sic, and clas­si­cal dis­ci­pline, Judy Borer has found her­self in a wide va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal en­deav­ours, as a teacher, church or­gan­ist and choir di­rec­tor, and ac­com­pa­nist. Si­mon says he’s known for a long time that her re­la­tion­ship with mu­sic is as fraught as it is rich. He talked to her about re­bel­lion, in­her­i­tance, dis­ci­pline, and pas­sage.

Judy Borer: [My mother] had a need to pro­tect clas­si­cal mu­sic as an art form, and in do­ing that I think she missed out on a lot of other gen­res of mu­sic.

Clas­si­cal mu­sic, while I loved it, didn’t seem to suit my per­son­al­ity. The dis­ci­pline, the com­pet­i­tive as­pect wasn’t some­thing I could res­onate with. That meant I had to learn in­stru­ments other than the pi­ano. So I taught my­self guitar first of all. Some­body gave me a man­dolin. The only way I could do it was if it was this self-im­posed dis­ci­pline. If there were other peo­ple judg­ing or dic­tat­ing...

SB: I’ve heard you talk a lot about your pi­ano teacher. Did you push back against her?

JB: That was when I was quite young, 13. My mom had been my teacher up un­til that point but she didn’t want to any­more be­cause I wasn’t dis­ci­plined. But I was still really in­ter­ested. One of the peo­ple I met was go­ing to this wo­man and she only had one stu­dent. But I went and played for her and she ac­cepted me. She was very avant-garde; her com­po­si­tions, mak­ing pre­pared pianos. She loved all that. It had to do with her sense of hu­mour. I think con­tem­po­rary clas­si­cal mu­sic has the most lat­i­tude for imag­i­na­tion and

par­tic­u­larly hu­mour. I think it’s a great way of ex­press­ing the bizarre, and she was very good at cap­tur­ing those sounds par­tic­u­larly on the pi­ano that have so much... depth and verve. She could’ve been a concert pi­anist. She wanted to be but she was an English teacher due to parental in­flu­ences I guess. She got me into a pro­gram at the con­ser­va­tory... I just wanted to take a year off.

Af­ter high school I was still just 16 but she put me in this schol­ar­ship pro­gram at the con­ser­va­tory.

SB: Your mom quit be­ing your mu­sic teacher when you were 13. When I was 13 you said “Do you want to keep do­ing this?’” in re­gards to my mu­sic. Were you con­sciously think­ing to when you were 13 (when you said that)?

JB: I think I un­der­stood that that was a ques­tion that needed to be asked in a com­pas­sion­ate fash­ion.

SB: When did you start teach­ing mu­sic?

JB: When I was 15. And then I wanted to leave that whole world behind when we moved here but, you know the way things go, you get, I won’t say sucked in... The same thing with go­ing to church, I ob­jected with many things to do with church but cir­cum­stances really came to­gether to bring me back to that in a mu­si­cal way. I went to church and then all of a sud­den I was the or­gan­ist.

SB: If you have a skill in the Ot­tawa Val­ley, it will get used.

JB: When you’re in a big pond and you have some tal­ent, it’s washed away. It’s not even con­sid­ered wor­thy. And so it’s nice to be in a place that ap­pre­ci­ates what­ever you got. I was to­tally will­ing to cut off ties with all of that be­cause there was a lot of bag­gage. The world does not al­low you just to set things aside while they’re still in con­flict. You have to deal with them.

SB: You said it was easy to get me in­volved at the be­gin­ning. You said it wasn’t al­ways easy later. But you de­cided that that was some­thing I should prac­tice.

JB: I think I wanted you to be able to read mu­sic. It was a lan­guage.it was my lan­guage. So I think it was just that... I was pass­ing on my lan­guage to you.

And hope­fully you would get a lit­tle out of it.

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