“You will find that classical music isn’t as bad as you thought.”
Famed cellist Ian Hampton, 83, may be a newcomer when it comes to the book world but his book Jan In 35 Pieces has been hitting all the right notes. The book has been shortlisted for the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize, an award that Hampton admits to being terrified about.
Humble to a fault the British born music man is a little unnerved by all the accolades coming his way. “I’m being thrown to the literary lions,” Hampton joked as he talked about the upcoming RBC Taylor Prize.
Hampton came from a family of musical people, almost every one of his close relations was part of the industry including his father, famed cellist Collin Hampton. “Everything was stacked against me,” Hampton laughed talking about becoming a cellist. His childhood was spent going to music lessons and performances.
Life as a classical musician is a life of bouncing from one gig to the next. It’s not the best way for a family man. “One is going out the door as most people are coming home for supper. We get about.”
“I’d like people to be more open about listening to music.”
In Jan in 35 Pieces Hampton writes about his life as a classical musician in the third person. He said that he did so to distance himself because when he started “writing his book it was to be about music not about me particularity.” Hampton said during a phone interview that he had thought about writing his book for a number of years before completing the task. Hampton’s original vision was not to write about himself but his editor Barbara Nickel guided him into adding more of his own story to the pages. He says that the initial writing process was quite easy. What became difficult for him was expanding some scenes and then having to shrink the book’s page count to fit into publisher Porcupine’s Quill’s 300-page guidelines. It took several years to complete. Each of those thousands and thousands of manuscript words was written by hand in cursive.
Hampton’s need to get a story about the music out came from performing in front of school children, who didn’t always understand the meaning behind classical music. It wasn’t just the little ones, most adults do not understand the hard work behind bringing this music to life.
“It first arose because we used to do string quartet concerts for schools. You have to keep the kids attention for about 45 minutes. The first ten minutes is fine but at the 30-minute point there is rumbling going on in the gymnasium. And for the younger kids, the Beatles is just about as ancient as Mozart. There is a difficulty about what you are going to say to kids that they are going to understand what four string players are doing. I thought about that over the years,” the author continued, “You see music is a very abstract thing and is hard to describe. I thought it best if one tries to use anecdotal stories and I wanted to write a book for the layman, to show what goes on to make a piece of classical music. I wanted to describe the lives we lead as performers in a humorous way.”
When it comes to other genres of music Hampton enjoys some jazz but doesn’t find rock and roll or country all that interesting. “It’s the snob in me, I guess,” he laughed. He was a great admirer of the Beatles and the Big Band. “We are kind of shackled to the music of the era we grew up with.”
Raised during the 1970s I grew up on Southern Rock and not classical music. As I read the pages I had Mozart playing in the background, gently adding a level of understanding of the indicate styling. When I confessed this Hampton sighed, “Ah, this is the problem with music. People get very selective about what they are going to listen to. If you like rock you don’t like country. If you like Beethoven you are not going to listen to anything written after 1910. But of course in our everyday lives, we are surrounded by music, you can’t escape it. In the Western world, everybody will have heard certain pieces such as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. You can’t get away from that. One’s life is richer if you can appreciate the spectrum of music.”
For his book, Hampton drew several cartoons to enhance the pages. He finds drawing another way to express his art and one that lasts longer than a musical concert explaining, “Once you put your instrument into its case that’s it. If you are a novelist or a painter you have a life’s work that is visible in front of you. (I find) Drawing is a way to relax and put one’s self in another form.”
Asked about who we should be looking out for when it comes to listening modern classic music Hampton said that he is impressed with Jocelyn Morlock and the McKenna Quintet of Calgary.
Living near Vancouver Hampton continues to teach but since last summer is no longer playing professionally. While age may have slowed him down he still plays every day, after all, as his new book says music runs in his veins.
The RBC Taylor Prize winner will be revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday, March 4th, 2019 at the Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto.