I haven’t read Mansouri’s book yet – but I just finished Hamilton’s Opening Windows: Confessions of a Canadian Vocal Coach (published by Dundurn Press).
I got to know Hamilton a little bit when he agreed to be interviewed for my own recent book, Remembering Glenn Gould (see here). And now, having read Hamilton’s memoir, I can say that it displays the same characteristics as the man himself: modest – but also clever, charming, articulate and rich in content.
Remarkably, Hamilton often downplays his pianistic skills. (There can’t be many pianists’ autobiographies that take such a humble tone!) Indeed, the book is peppered with such statements as “my musical abilities were not focused on the piano, per se.” Perhaps Hamilton’s self-deprecating nature is due to his frequent exposure to what he calls the “Prairie Lecture.” Family members would respond to his achievements with a warning that he should not get “a swelled head.”
What his musical abilities were focused on was the human voice. And this made him valuable to the musical community. He began coaching singers in Regina at the age of 14 – and after his move to Toronto he rose to become one of the city’s leading coach-accompanists.
Working with such singers as Lois Marshall, Maureen Forrester, Roxolana Roslak and many others placed him in an ideal situation to collect colourful experiences and anecdotes – and this book is full of them. For instance, there was the time when soprano Mary Morrison slapped him for playing too fast. Or the time when he threatened to have tenor Guillermo Silva-Marin killed if he didn’t learn his music. (On the subject of his personal life, Hamilton is rather circumspect. Rumour has it that there was a more audacious first draft of this book, but it did not see print.)
There are moments of international glory in these pages, such as Hamilton’s solo recitals in London and New York, and the time when he had to help José Carreras through a memory lapse on stage.
But mostly, Opening Windows is about the day-to-day life of a Toronto musician. And this, I think, is the book’s chief virtue. Hamilton lived through and actively participated in the growth of Canada’s vocal culture: from the 1940s to the present day, with professional opera companies and recital series in most cities, and an abundance of Canadian vocal talent.
Hamilton was a vital part of this development. His pride in his accomplishments shines through his cloak of humility – as well it should.
© Colin Eatock 2012