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My Life on Earth and Elsewhere


My Life on Earth and Elsewhere, a memoir by the internationally-acclaimed Canadian composer, music educator and writer R. Murray Schafer, traces the author's life and growth as an artist from his earliest memories to the present. Scenes from his youth as an aspiring painter, a music student at the University of Toronto and a sailor on a Great Lakes freighter give way to memories of his several years of work and wandering in Europe, where he gained a deeper understanding of his vocation, and found, especially in ...

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My Life on Earth and Elsewhere

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My Life on Earth and Elsewhere, a memoir by the internationally-acclaimed Canadian composer, music educator and writer R. Murray Schafer, traces the author's life and growth as an artist from his earliest memories to the present. Scenes from his youth as an aspiring painter, a music student at the University of Toronto and a sailor on a Great Lakes freighter give way to memories of his several years of work and wandering in Europe, where he gained a deeper understanding of his vocation, and found, especially in Greece, the inspiration for much of the astonishing music he would create after his return to Canada.

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Editorial Reviews

Musicworks - Crystal Chan

'Like any good memoir, this is as much about the writer's milieu as it is about the writer. Major figures crop up in Schafer's tales: musicians such as Britten and Cage along with many others, including Marshall McLuhan, Ezra Pound, even Jim Henson. Forrest Gump-like stories fill the pages; Schafer has a knack for finding himself a player in big events. Unlike his thirty-plus other books, this is a personal memoir – but it is also a portrait of the history and public landscape of musical and intellectual life in the second half of the twentieth century.'


'This beautiful book is bound in lovely paper, decorated on the cover and inside with copious examples of [R Murray Schafer's] art. I am reminded of why books matter....'

The Literary Review of Canada - Colin Eatock

'The book has the glow of sincere conviction about it that adumbrates just about everything Schafer says and does. It is a well written account of a remarkable life remarkably lived.'

ForeWord Reviews - Aimee Jodoin

My Life on Earth and Elsewhere

R. Murray Schafer is a brilliantly talented painter, musician, and writer--and he knows it, his ego exposed in this otherwise wonderfully written memoir. My Life on Earth and Elsewhere traces his growth as an artist, beginning with dreamlike scenes from his early childhood and teenage years but focusing on his travels through Europe as a twenty-something, in the 1950s and 1960s, and his career as a freelance composer and educator. Blind in one eye since birth, Schafer chronicles the events he finds in his memory with beautifully poignant language, scattering his sketches, paintings, and photographs of his theatrical concertos throughout the book.

Many of Schafer's encounters--namely tea with Ezra Pound while the poet was in a psychiatric hospital and a business meeting with Muppets creator Jim Henson--seem almost too fantastic to be true; and the language he uses to describe his experiences exudes self-absorption. Excerpts from Schafer's diary and letters further create an air of pomposity, more prominently when he mentions his proclivity to keep a diary while immediately thereafter revealing that he finds "it interesting from time to time to read extensive passages from other diaries, especially those of great artists." He writes with a voice that assumes everyone wishes to listen. Additionally, Schafer revels in his successes while often blaming errors in his work and actions on others or on circumstance; his acknowledgments of personal flaws appear only in the form of guilt--for instance, when he leaves his first wife for another woman, and then leaves his second wife for yet another woman.

A reader may doubt that Schafer dined with Pound because of the artist's ego conveyed through his writing style: "At this point I was perhaps the only Pound enthusiast who had seen the conclusion of the great work [Cantos]. Can you imagine how many EP scholars contacted me over the next few years to find out how the Cantos ended?" And concerning a performance of his own work, he writes that, "I had been informed that the new work would have the distinction of being first on the program 'when the audience was fresh.' I determined to confuse them by agglutinating my piece to the next piece on the program so that there would be no opportunity to open the doors between numbers, and latecomers would have to wait outside until the intermission." Though his self-inflation occasionally detracts from the authority of the text, Schafer's memoir is engrossing, memorable, and offers both insight into the inner life of an artist and inspiration for those striving for a career in the arts.

Most fascinating are the events detailed during the author's nomadic years in Europe and his time as a sailor on a Great Lakes freighter. His scholarly work as a professor and composer in Canada, where he currently lives, offers a deeper glimpse into his artistic and philosophical processes. My Life on Earth and Elsewhere may bring readers to Schafer's music, and it will surely illustrate how experiences shape passions and passions shape people.

From the Publisher

'This beautiful book is bound in lovely paper, decorated on the cover and inside with copious examples of [R Murray Schafer's] art. I am reminded of why books matter....'

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780889843523
  • Publisher: Porcupine's Quill, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/2012
  • Edition description: First
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Sarnia in 1933, R. Murray Schafer is an internationally-acclaimed composer, environmentalist, educator, scholar, visual artist and writer. Despite only one formal diploma (the LRSM -- Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music in London), Schafer has taught at Memorial and Simon Fraser universities, and received honorary degrees from Trent, Simon Fraser, Carleton, Toronto, and Concordia universities in Canada, and from Mendosa (Argentina) and Strassbourg (France). His music is widely praised and performed all over the world. His major achievement, the epic Patria cycle, is more often praised than produced, since it requires wilderness settings and performances that last all night -- or longer. Schafer lives in Indian River, just outside Peterborough, Ontario.

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Read an Excerpt


Despite the pleasure of working with Weinzweig and Guerrero, and meeting McLuhan, I was having difficulty in several other courses. Things were building to some kind of climax around Christmas time of my second year. In many ways, the university was a place that cared for authority rather than invention. For one thing, attendance was compulsory and a roll-call preceded every lecture. I hated these rules, which seemed the very antithesis of imaginative scholarship.

In those days the university choir was conducted by Dr. Richard Johnston, a tempestuous Texan whose face burned red during the temper tantrums that he seemed incapable of controlling. We used to call him 'Furnace Face'. I resented having to sing in his choir since I had sung and was still singing more interesting music in the Grace Church Choir. The English choral tradition was still quite strong in Canada in those days, with a repertoire that extended back to Elizabethan times. When you've sung Thomas Tallis and William Byrd motets, or Handel's Messiah with multiple choirs and orchestra, as we did each year in Massey Hall, the prospect of sappy pop songs is not at all inspiring. So I used to take large art-books with me to the rehearsals and calmly inspect them while the choir floundered through a repertoire of tasteless and toothless choral music.

'Choir stand up!' commanded Dr. Johnston from the top of the chair he always stood on. The choir stood up. 'Choir sit down!' came the abrupt contravening order. The choir sat down. 'Choir and Mr. Schafer stand up!' bellowed the commander. Schafer calmly turned the pages of his book on Rouault or Cezanne. 'Schafer!' screamed the doctor. 'Stand up!' Several girls began to swoon, recognizing the symptoms of the well-known tantrum that would sour the mood for the rest of the evening. 'Come up here!'

Nonchalantly I wandered to the front carrying my precious book. 'Sit there!' ordered Il Duce, pointing to an empty chair directly in front of him. 'Now, once again, CHOIR AND MR. SCHAFER, STAND UP!' The choir stood up. Schafer opened his book and began to read. 'SCHAFER!' It was the loudest sound the school had ever heard. The dust rose from the windowsills and the lights flickered. Dr. Johnston leapt in the air, landing with such force that his feet went clear through the seat of his chair. I looked up to see him furiously waving his baton only a few feet in front of my nose. I did the only natural thing. I got up and ran away. He lunged after me but the legs of the chair trapped him and he came clattering to the ground. As I darted out the door, I saw girls hurrying to pick him up off the floor.

Now, before I go on, let me say that Richard Johnston and I grew to be friends in later years. We never spoke of that incident again. More important concerns united us. Chief among these was the fight to establish Canadian music as a subject fit to be taught and performed in Canadian schools and universities. The good doctor went on to establish an enviable collection of Canadian musical manuscripts and memorabilia at the University of Calgary and several of my manuscripts eventually found their way into this collection.

The other professor with whom I had a run-in at the U. of T. was Professor Rosy-Rear, also an American. Rosy-Rear was not his name but it is close enough. Of all the courses I had to take, his was the stupidest. Music education has never been distinguished by imagination but there are limits to how much stupidity a person can handle. It was during the Christmas exam that matters came to a head. I am not sure whether the questions on the exam were designed by a blockhead or for blockheads. I remember two of them. One was: 'What would you use rice for in cleaning a violin?' I have since asked many violinists this question without ever receiving a satisfactory answer. I even asked the famous violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, who didn't know either. The other question was: 'How would you teach a hare-lipped boy to play the clarinet?' I answered this by saying I'd suggest another instrument. The rest of the questions were equally stupid and I rose to leave the examination hall after ten minutes; but the invigilator stopped me, by saying that I had to remain for a minimum of one hour. That was the rule. So I filled in the time by writing a little essay for Rosy-Rear on the subject of how music education might be more inspiringly taught. I didn't expect this to strike home and, in any case, it was probably a silly essay since I hadn't given the matter any advance thought. I recall that I concluded rather flippantly by telling him that it would please me greatly if he would give me zero on the exam because then, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom I had been reading, I would have the distinction, if not of being better than my fellow man, at least of being different.

I—R. Murray Schafer

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Table of Contents

High School
Artist or Musician?
The Sailor
Behind the Iron Curtain
Ezra Pound
Toronto: Ten Centuries Concerts
Montreal and Loving
Expo 67 and the Stratford Festival
Commissions from the Montreal and Toronto Symphonies
Luciano Berio's Visit to Ottawa
The Queen Visits Toronto
Vienna and Universal Edition
The Birth of the Soundscape
Soundscapes of Europe
Monteagle Valley
The Choirmaster
Credo and Apocalypsis
The Music of Man
Travelling and Teaching
Arcana Editions and the Maynooth Community Choir
Switzerland and Home Again
The Princess of the Stars
Alone Again
Sankt Gallen / Toronto
San Diego
Indian River and the Greatest Show
The Greatest Show (Again)
Bonn and Huddersfield
And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon
More Orchestra Pieces
Money Music
Brazil and Beyond
Argentina and Uruguay
Musique pour le Parc Lafontaine
Patria 9: The Enchanted Forest
Manitou in Manitoba
Street Concerts
Lectures and Workshops
Three Choral Pieces
The Tea House
Winter Diary
Patria 10: The Spirit Garden
The Seventh Quartet, Four Forty and the Eighth Quartet
Eleanor's Return
Patria 8: The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix
Harvesting the Spirit Garden
Songs for Mignon
The Fall into Light
Coimbra Vibra
The Sick Singer
Brazil Again: Coriun Aharonian
String Quartets Nine and Ten
Indian River: Nature and the Farm
Threnody in Japan
The Children's Crusade
The Enchanted Forest
Theatre of the Senses
Radio Mexico
Authors with Good Ears
Home Again
Eleventh String Quartet
Back to Japan
The Children's Crusade Fiasco
And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon
The Patria Cycle

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