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journey of a ten through talons


Learning Centre Post 2017

The primary focal point of my learning centre was something I deemed as my “Interrogation Chamber”. In reality, it wasn’t that bad at all. I basically created a large rectangular prism out of wood, and then draped some black curtain over it. I placed a chair inside, made a mixtape of some of Shostakovich’s screechiest music, and told people to enjoy! Here are some photos of how I made it.

Here is an Flickr album of my learning centre.

Here is a tour of my learning centre.

Overall, I am very satisfied with how it turned out: I improved on my design from last year and featured more photographs and quotes while cutting down on text; I had a bigger “advertisement” for my center (the four letters DSCH), and a larger focal point (the interrogation chamber). Most of my quotes were ones that were transcribed from my interviews.

Here are some details that were not fully explained in my video:

I chose to put the subheading “Composer, Survivor”, because it not only lets us know Shostakovich’s profession, but also the fact he outlasted the Stalinist regime and lived to tell his story in music.

The paragraph’s text is attached:

Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich was, on paper, a loyal Stalinist, signing government decrees and even traveling to New York to preach the importance of Socialist Realism. He composed propagandist works that glorified Joseph Stalin, and received several Stalin prizes for his efforts. However, he was called “anti-people” by the government, and many of his friends, family, and fellow artists were purged when he was alive. He wrote satirical works of the government, and often spoke negatively of their regime under his breath.

Ultimately, the answer can never be so clear. And why must we apply such labels to people who are composers, not moral beacons? Especially under the thick blanket of fear that was placed by a tyrannical Soviet government, we will never, and should never, try place his political opinions.

Instead, what we must listen to is his music: the Leningrad Symphony, which may have played a part in saving thousands of citizens in the crippled city, and the 8th String Quartet, a work of incredible power and tension that is perhaps the greatest microcosm of what it was like to live under an oppressive regime.

Dmitri Shostakovich was a composer, above all. He composed not only to survive, but as a way of communicating his fear, torment, and humanity.


The rotary telephone was to represent how Shostakovich often waited in fear for phone calls by Joseph Stalin.

When besieged and starving Leningraders had nothing to eat, they fried coffee grounds to make “pancakes”. The ones I made (with the help of my dad) were much more tasty, although not many seemed to want to touch them after being informed that the citizens also ate glue, house pets, and sawdust!

The website that generates a musical motif can be found here:

The quotes I used can be found here:

He…will be remembered in the same way in generations to come as we revere Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Pam Highbaugh-Aloni, cellist of the Lafayette SQ

Through his music he has provoked…an affirmation of the importance of the individual’s ability to express himself, whatever the circumstances.

– Alan Mercer, editor-in-chief/founder of DSCH JOURNAL

He had a compulsion to always behave like a puppet, and then hate himself for behaving that way.

– Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker

He creates a turbulence inside you through his music.

– Ann Elliott-Goldschmid, violinist of the Lafayette SQ

He was able to show Russians how horrendous life was, and yet still be able to keep his own sanity.

– Sharon Stanis, violinist of the Lafayette SQ

Simulate the interrogation chamber experience yourself! Go into a small room, turn the lights off, and blast this music:





The End of the End: 2017 Night of the Notables Reflection

A quick word of advice for anyone who may pass this, and hopefully it’s on the day of Night of the Notables: do not expect the night, the experience, the feelings, to be the same as any other! The best way you can embrace whatever is thrown at you is by taking it all in, and realizing that you, along with your fellow TALONS, are truly making history.

With this post being created on November 27, 2017, that will have meant Night of the Notables ended five night ago. We’ve rushed so quickly back into the thick of things that I haven’t had much time to catch my breath, or think about my final Eminent person project. A new novel study was assigned, our physics unit is in full swing, and preparing for the holidays has occupied my brain for the most part.

But when I hear anyone say “Eminent”, I’m thrown right back into Wednesday night, right back into the screaming, high-pitched yells of our 9’s (sorry!) and the anxious recitation of speeches by 10’s as we simultaneously tried to set up our learning centre with endless rolls of masking tape and a little too much nervous energy.

Eminent is over.

I repeat that sentence in my head as I write this. It’s over. IT’S over. It’s OVER. It’s…over? How could it be over? Did it really even happen?

The speech. It was strangely comforting, watching us all pace anxiously backstage, even the most confident speakers be reduced to repetitions of opening lines. Despite spending hours with each other every day, we’re never completely exposed to each other. But as I was also treading around, trying to breathe, I felt us all emanating vulnerability. We were scared, and weren’t really prepared for what would happen on stage, and we were okay with letting each other know that. Soon, though, that vulnerability turned to energy, and it was almost as if when one speech was done the speaker would pass on the energy to the next one, and they would mold the little ball of energy a little bigger, before we were all on our feet, desperate to burst on stage and share our final bows as one group as Nathan (sorry, Jony Ive), delivered his final lines.

As for my own speech, I had been waiting ever since I first saw my own sister stand in the library where the speeches used to be held at nine years ago. As I stepped quietly on to the stage, ready to close act one, I felt strangely calm. My incessantly quick heartbeat slowed, and the prose which I had so painstakingly written out came easily, and naturally to me. But it was over far too quickly, and I was to pass off the baton into someone else’s outstretched hands.

The learning centre. I somehow felt like a 9 again! I found so much unbridled joy in repeating nearly the exact same information to the dozens of people who passed by my station. Everyone seemed so genuinely interested in what I had done, flattered me about my speech, and cared about why I put so much effort into this project.

Some thank you’s are long overdue here:

  1. My family. Iris, who spent far too much time instructing me on exactly what the best Eminent speech looked like, Louise, who seems to be more of a Shostakovich expert than I am, my dad, for essentially giving me a crash course on woodworking, and my mom, for telling me to sleep.
  2. Kevin Bazzana. Our friendship began last year when I interviewed him about Glenn Gould. Throughout the project, he answered my panicked queries about who Shostakovich really was, who he supported, and what the point of it all was with the calm, heady attitude of a scholar, and helped debunk many myths surrounding my EP.
  3. All my interviewees, for giving me insight into literally every aspect of Shostakovich.
  4. Stephen Hurley, who helped an immense amount with the livestream. You can find him at
  5. Everyone in TALONS, for the nervous energy, for the “ENERGY!”, and for the energy in the closing circle.
  6. Mr. Morris. You did it! You made it!

It’s over, it’s been over for five days, and it’ll never happen again. Of course, this tradition that seems almost as old as time itself will continue on; learners will make bigger, more extravagant learning centres to accompany their eloquent speeches, and I’ll return to Gleneagle Secondary on a Wednesday night in November to watch it all unfold again in less than 365 days.

But this, this reincarnation of Eminent is over, to be locked away in the annals of TALONS history. This is the edition that marked the start of a new teacher’s leadership (and he did extremely well, FYI), and the end of another. It was breathtaking, exhilarating, full of anxious faces filled with tension, then happy smiles, as all TALONS events are guaranteed to produce.

And I also guess this is goodbye to you too, Mr. Shostakovich. There is still so much I don’t know about you. But does that even matter? You opened your door wide open for me two months ago, and I rummaged around the endless amount of books, articles, and photographs like a kid in a candy store (who did get sick from all of the reading every so often). Thank you, for your music, for your determination, and a life well lived. I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand what you had to go through in your life, but at least now I know that in times of torture, fear, and hopelessness, music will always prevail.

To whoever reads this: do something that makes you feel what I felt on November 22, 2017: the feeling of craziness, extreme panic, total isolation, complete companionship, and the dream of wanting to do it all over again in a heartbeat.

And ultimately, whether it was the learning centre or speech, getting lost in the joy of creating something, someone that I love..

So long, Eminent Person project.


*As for the questions I set out to answer for myself at the start of the project: I scribbled down shorthand answers throughout my project, whether it be during research, interviews, or at 12 AM in my bed. Should I be given a chance in Socials to edit and synthesize them (seeing as a few of my questions were very broad, and could easily tie into the BC Curriculum), they will be posted!


SO MANY INTERVIEWS: Eminent Interviews 2017

Ah, Interviews (I think by now it deserves the royalty of a proper noun). I completely forgot how invested I was in this portion of Eminent: the constant Gmail updating, the feeling of complete joy as I read the words “Yes, I’d be happy to help you with your project”, the pacing around my room as I anxiously waited for my interviewees to pick up, and, best of all, getting lost in conversation with the best of the best in the classical music business.

Having conducted two successful and lengthy interviews with some pretty notable experts for my project last year, I must confess that I felt a certain level of expectation on my shoulders as I prepared to send out interviews again.

Here are the experts I contacted:

Richard Taruskin – Shostakovich scholar, written several wonderful essays about him (see my Annotated Bi-blog-raphy).

Eugene Osadchy – Russian cellist, now a professor at University of North Texas.

Alex Ross – music critic of the New Yorker. He wrote a great chapter about Shostakovich in his book The Rest is Noise.

David Fanning – author of Shostakovich Studies, prof. at University of Manchester.

Judith Kuhn – Shostakovich scholar.

Alan Mercer – founder/editor-in-chief of DSCH Journal, a twice-year publication dedicated to the composer.

Vladimir Ashkenazy – notable Russian pianist.

Marietta Orlov – former Romanian State Pianist, currently a professor at University of Toronto.

Lafayette String Quartet – based in Victoria, all are professors at University of Victoria. These include:

  1. Ann Elliott-Goldschmid
  2. Sharon Stanis
  3. Joanna Hood
  4. Pam Highbau-Aloni

Here is the following email I sent all of them (some were in variation; ex. for musicians I focused on how I am a pianist, if I had a personal connection with the contact I would state it too):

My name is Lucas Hung, a student at Gleneagle Secondary School near Vancouver. I am completing a project for my English 10 class where we are to complete a month-long study about an “eminent” person of our choice. I have been asked to conduct an interview with an expert in the field of my subject, Dmitri Shostakovich. The objective of this interview is for me to gain a more in-depth understanding of Shostakovich, and also learn how to properly develop interview questions.

I am requesting permission to interview you about your experiences with writing about Shostakovich. I am an aspiring classical pianist myself, and have been fascinated by his story and his ability to produce music of such great emotional quality despite his creative conditions, as well as the scholarly controversy surrounding his personal beliefs and personal life after his death.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could spare some time from your busy schedule to provide me with some insight about Shostakovich and performing his music, or direct me towards someone else that could help me as well.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at xxxxxxxxxxxx, or lucascwhung AT Or, you may also contact my English teacher, Nathan Morris, through email at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you!


Lucas Hung


I got two responses by the next morning. Osadchy politely declined, but gave me four books to read about Shostakovich. The manager of the Lafayette SQ agreed to contact them. It was a start!

My promising beginning quickly faded away to nothing. David Fanning responded, stating he was too busy, and sent me to contact Judith Kuhn. It seemed as if all hope was lost; there were only two weeks until Night of the Notables, and I wouldn’t have a single interview to show off.

Then, it happened. An innocuous email popped into my inbox on a Wednesday morning, sent from New York: Alex Ross had agreed to chat with me! We were able to talk on the phone for nearly an hour, and I was particularly interested in his investigative, nearly-forensic attitude to researching Shostakovich. Also, it was quite humbling to hear someone so knowledgeable about a specific person :P.

Soon, three more members of the Lafayette Quartet responded as well (the fourth, Joanna Hood, did agree, but has yet replied my email with my questions). They had all studied with Rostislav Dubinsky, a violinist in a Russian string quartet that knew Shostakovich personally. They weaved in stories about what their teacher had told them about living in an oppressive regime, and I came away with a more personal look into Shostakovich’s life.

Only Ms. Highbau-Aloni send me answers through email. Here are a few of her answers:

Question: How much do you take in account his life/circumstances under which he composed into your interpretation [of his music]?

PHA: With Shostakovich, we learned from our great teacher Dubinsky, the more powerful message is stated with objectivity and almost a stoic approach. As performers we could feel and take into account his struggles, but his music’s message is best served when the rhythm, pulse and line are played truly and without “over interpretation”. I believe for Shostakovich his music and genius were something that allowed him to rise above his life struggles and circumstances.

Question: Did your teacher have a favourite story about Shostakovich that he liked to tell?

PHA: Rostislav Dubinsky would tell may (sic) stories, but one I remember is when Dubinsky approached Shostakovich and asked if he would mind that Dubinsky would like to transcribe a couple of the Preludes and Fugues written for piano for string quartet. Shostakovich asked which ones Dubinsky was thinking of and Dubinsky replied, “No. 1 and No. 15” Right there and then, Shostakovich replied, yes, No. 1 is fine as it is, and then he seemed to run the entire no. 15 in his head with his hand nervously rubbing his head and responded quickly – ‘Yes, it will work, but transpose it from Db to Eb as it will work better for strings.’  Dubinsky told this story to demonstrate just how brilliant Shostakovich was.


Alan Mercer and Judith Kuhn also agreed to answer questions through email. Mercer’s responses were particularly insightful about Shostakovich’s rich and complicated legacy. Attached are a few notable answers:

Question: Should Shostakovich be considered a role model or be admired for his actions? 

AM: As a genius composer – of course he can be admired and his ability to work in conditions of extreme adversity held up and respected but for us in 2017 to understand the context in which he lived and worked is, in my view too remote a notion for us to pass any form of judgement on the man and his actions

Question: What is one statement/question you would tell/ask him if you could meet him right now?

AM: I would thank him for his dedication to composing music that has such an important part in my life, and those of many others. Through his music he has  provoked joy, intense reflection and an affirmation of the importance of the individual’s  ability to express himself,  whatever the circumstances.


What I learned from the interview process:

  1. Ask questions that got you the answers you’re looking for.
    1. Ask questions that go below the surface of normal interview questions – What is your specific opinion about this composition and why? What is the historical significance of this event? Were most of his conflicts internal or external? To what extent was fear a motivating factor in his life?
  2. Phone interviews are preferable to emails. First and foremost, speaking is easier than writing (as I found), and more information can be told in 30 minutes of speaking than the same amount of time spent typing.
  3. Only request to interview experts whose answers you really care about. This will save you much time and energy.
  4. Interviews are so much fun!!!! Experts are literally giving you a lecture for FREE!


A Two Minute Monologue in the Style of My EP: Speech Post 2017

Here it is! I was probably most apprehensive about this part of the project; I felt tons of inherent pressure to create a speech just as powerful and affecting as both my sisters has, and I personally consider the speeches to be the pinnacle of Night of the Notables, and pretty much the TALONS program.

I did it! I had to cut down my word count from 700 to 300, and practiced so much the last few nights I tasted blood at the back of my throat when I finally decided to attempt to sleep. However, as I stood on stage, feeling as confident as ever, yet vulnerable in a way that eerily reminded me of the struggles my own Eminent Person had to fight in his life, I felt relieved that all the work I had undergone allowed me to be as expressive as possible.

Thank you, to Melissa, Deon, Ms. Walstrom, Phia, Mackenzie, Tori, Emily, Yuwen, my great sisters, my dad, and Cailum for helping me shape my speech into something I was so proud of.


Draft 1:

Here I am.

Your hero, your dissident, your saviour, your defiant answer to Stalin.

And as of right now, your newest member of the Soviet Communist Party.

I thought the fear was over. Those sleepless nights, anticipating the sharp “rap-rap-rap” on the door by the Secret Police, waiting to rip me away from your family and everyone I cared about. I always packed a suitcase back then, ready to leave at any moment when they came to take me. Every step I took was haunted, haunted by the disappearances of my best friends. Except they never really left, always returning to torment me with a reminder that I now carried their burden, I now carried the torch, the responsibility to avenge their needless deaths at the hand of a single dictator. The fear had seemed to dissipate with the last of Stalin’s breaths – slow, agonizingly long, and seemingly endless. But let me tell you something about fear. It never leaves. It is always lurking at the edge of your conscience, nibbling away at everything good in your life.

And now it’s inside me. I could have said no, could have resisted Khrushchev and his cronies, and wouldn’t have been killed, killed like so many of my friends, under Stalin. “A Friend of the People”. Now I am the newest member of that regime, a regime stained with blood everywhere, now on my hands, my music.

Am I not made of evil? No, no, Dmitri, they tell me. You are a tremendous composer, a tremendous man of great renown. The premiere of one of my symphonies garnered worldwide acclaim, I became a war hero, I was featured on the cover of TIME. Yet nothing satisfied me at all. I thought it at least got me a reprieve, a few years, that Stalin wouldn’t dare denounce me when the whole world was staring at me.

  1. A decree, declaring that my music was made of evil. All my music was banned, and at a conference afterwards, I was to give a speech. At the last moment, a piece of paper was shoved into my hands. My eyes swam as the scanned the page, declaring that I supported the accusations, as well as supporting the condemnations of other composers. My friends, my colleagues. I stood there and read, tried to get it over with as quickly as possible, but the damage had been done. My first instance of cowardliness was through. It soon weaved its way into my blood, intertwining with my fear. Cowardly fear. I made speeches in the USA glorifying the Communist Party, I signed documents declaring I supported the party. I called myself a “paltry wretch, a parasite, a puppet, a cut-out paper doll on a string!!” But I never thought I would actually become the evil, embody the evil.

This was the final straw, a symphony of shrieks, catcalls, ear-splitting notes, building up, the pain, the torture, the torment!

Then nothing, a single line carrying out its part like its final breaths, the final breaths of a generation, the final breaths of freedom. Dying away, without hope, without light. Morendo.

So when you listen to my music, hear my pain, hear my suffering. I wrote to give to the people what Communism and Fascism has taken away from them: their freedom, their integrity. For when this hell passes, and whatever monster replaces it, my music, and only my music, will still remain.

Do not call me your hero. Heroes answer to what is wrong by acting on their morals. Heroes are brave. They risk it all, often not to be heard. And in Soviet Russia, their cries are stamped out, like a tiny flame in a dry meadow quickly suffocated under a steel-toed boot. Do not ever make the mistake of martyring me and my music.

I am not brave, and I am not a hero. I am just a composer.

A composer that survived.


Draft 10:

Here I am.


Dmitri Shostakovich. Your hero, your dissident, your defiant answer to Stalin.


And as of right now, your newest member of the Soviet Communist Party.


Funny, how even when you become a part of what you fear, it never fails to torment you. I spent thousands of sleepless nights waiting for the “rap-rap-rap” (someone stomps, I jump) on my door, preparing to be dragged into a chamber, and exactly like so many of my friends and family who were declared enemies of the people, be sh- (cut off here). But instead of doing something, anything, I kept quiet.


Then, at a conference in 1948, I found myself with a script that was shoved into my trembling hands moments before I stumbled to a podium. It declared that I supported government accusations that my own music, loved around the nation, was destructive and hideous, and deserved to be banned. Under the fatherly stare of Comrade Stalin and his henchmen, I read the speech word for word.


Soon, it seemed like only cowardice ran in my veins. I signed propagandic documents, and read more speeches in support of these (dramatic pause) murderers. I was a “parasite, a puppet, a cut-out paper doll on a string!” But I never thought I had it in me to become the evil. Now this, this is the final straw, a symphony of shrieks, catcalls, ear-splitting notes, an erupting crescendo, the pain, the torture, the torment!


Then, a single note dying away, without hope, without light. Morendo.


When you listen to my music, hear my suffering in every single note. As the world was suffocating me, I used it to hide from the fear. Even when it was inside me.


Do not call me a hero. Heroes are brave. They risk it all.


I am just a composer. A composer who survived.


Is that not enough?


All the Good Stuff: Eminent Annotated Bi-blog-raphy

Due to Dmitri Shostakovich having such a complicated legacy, it’s understandably difficult to compile a list of even ten trustworthy sources about the composer. There is no established general information website about Shostakovich, like there were about my Eminent Person last year. Nor are there any government archives of any of his artifacts. Here, below, are some books, websites, and videos that I found most useful to my studies:



Fay, Laurel E. Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Definitely the best source I used for my project. This book is absolutely unparalleled in its amount of factual information about Shostakovich. The author traveled to Russia several times in order to study official papers, letters, and other documents to confirm their validity, stating that she cross-referenced all her sources.

Ross, Alex. The Rest Is Noise. Clipper, 2009.

This book is an entire history about 20th century music, with a chapter about Shostakovich. Published fairly recently, it details a powerful look into Shostakovich’s personal responses to his run-ins with the Soviet government, and also his complex relationship with Joseph Stalin.

Taruskin, Richard. On Russian Music. University of California Press, 2010.

Again, this book only contains a few essays about Shostakovich, but they are invaluable. Taruskin is able to discredit Testimony, a fraud purporting to be Shostakovich’s memoir, while painting a realistic picture of who he thought Shostakovich was during the Stalinist regime.

Taruskin, Richard. Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays. Princeton Univ. Press, 2001.

Similar to the other book written by Taruskin, he focuses particularly on two compositions by Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, and the 5th Symphony. Both essays are able to expose myths surrounding the two works, and extensively quote artists who lived in the regime to try and unearth Shostakovich’s intentions behind these masterworks.

Wilson, Elizabeth. Shostakovich: a Life Remembered. Faber, 2006.

Along with Shostakovich: A Life by Laurel E. Fay, these two books provide a wonderful portrait of Shostakovich’s musical output, and his internal struggles that still captivate audiences today. Wilson does not write much, instead quoting long paragraphs from interviews she conducted. Although this makes for difficult reading, it does provide a mosaic of opinions from those who knew Shostakovich best.


Fay, Laurel E. “Shostakovich Versus Volkov: Whose Testimony?” Russian Review, vol. 39, no. 4, 1980, p. 484., doi:10.2307/128813.

Fay’s first article surrounding Testimony and its fraudulence. She articulates well, in a short and concise article, what is wrong with the book and how it isn’t actually authentic. This article provided the groundwork for most of the great literature surrounding Testimony for the next twenty years.

“Dmitri Shostakovich.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Nov. 2017,

Very good general article about Shostakovich. It contained accurate facts, lists of his works, and information surrounding his legacy. Also, it provided a gateway to several useful sources and links about Shostakovich. There were photos and recordings I found interesting as well.

Taruskin, Richard, and David Brown. “Dmitry Shostakovich.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2 Mar. 2017,

Written by two credible authors, both of which can be considered Shostakovich experts, this article is a very brief biography of Shostakovich’s life. It highlights the most important events in his career, and is essentially a timeline of dates.

Ross, Alex. “Unauthorized.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017,

An article that helped me in firmly believing that Testimony was not legitimate. I could connect well with Ross in this article; our original thoughts about the book compared to the overwhelming evidence suggesting that it was fake were practically the same.

Fanning, David. “The Shostakovich Question.” David Fanning, Gramophone, 24 Sept. 2015,

Fanning answers several common questions about Shostakovich (an FAQ, if you will) in engaging and humorous fashion. Multiple of these queries were ones that I had myself at the beginning of this project. Fanning also writes about the popularity of Shostakovich’s music after his death.



Becker, Oliver, director. Into the Cold Dawn., LOFT Productions, 2007,

This documentary (supposedly a film) features insightful interviews with several musicians that knew Shostakovich, as well as his two children! It also featured rare footage of Shostakovich and the films he composed music for, and was an engaging watch.


Speech Outline

(Shostakovich is abbreviated to “Shosti”)


  • @New York Peace Conference in 1949, listening to speeches


  • It’s his turn, but he knows he must give a prepared speech by the government
  • Does he rebel and say what he truly feels, or read the speech?

Rising action:

  • Narrates leading action: being denounced, family members dying, phone call with Stalin persuading him to leave the Soviet Union for the conference
  • Remembers that wife and children are still in USSR, cannot speak out or else they will be killed
  • However, he remembers everyone that died around him
    • Protests outside his hotel room stating “Shostakovich! Jump through the window!” (as means to defect)
  • It’s a chance to speak out on such a world stage and denounce the government


  • Realizes he must conform to wishes of government
  • By surviving, he’ll be the real winner

Falling action:

  • Realizes that people will hate him for it, and call him a coward
    • “Do you know hard it is to risk all you have? To give up all you have? To rebel? To play a game you know you can’t win?”


  • Begins reading speech given to him that glorifies Stalin

Possible endings:

  • “I survived. Is that not enough? Why do you want me to be your hero?”
  • “I still have so much music left to write.”
  • “They call me Communist. They call me a dissident. I am neither. I am Dmitri Shostakovich.” (motif plays in background)



Picking Up Where We Left Off: VPL Trip 2017

*This is a bonus post! After reflecting on how much of an impact the library trip made on me last year, I felt compelled to include the sequel in my eminent anthology. Enjoy!*

The main thing I took away from the trip, other than seven books, was a greater sense of community with the TALONS learners, particularly the grade tens.

-Library post, 2016

Photos to the event can be found here (don’t worry, there are still many blurry selfies to enjoy)

When we as humans experience amazing and life-changing events one year, we feel the expectation to improve on them the next if given the opportunity. I felt this similar weight, small but constantly present, as I prepared three Wednesdays ago to visit the Vancouver Public Library and Macleod’s Bookstore with the entire TALONS program!!! (minus Ms. Mulder). I had some specific goals in mind:

  1. Get several books about my Eminent Person. These wonders of ink and paper were the basis of all my research last year, and I wanted to make sure I had at least a few biographies of Dmitri Shostakovich. Also, because a quick search on the library’s website revealed that there were more than a dozen books about him, I would have to make several decisions about which books I would use. This process would act as a filtration system.
  2.  Bond with the grade 9’s. I stated in my library post from last year that I felt a great deal closer to the grade 10’s after the event. I wanted to socialize with the 9’s as much as possible, and hopefully learn more about them and their wants and fears about this study and the year overall.
  3. Gain experience leading a truly large group. In the full year-and-a-bit that I’ve been in TALONS, the entire cohort of 50-something learners has never traveled as a group outside of Gleneagle walls. Now, we would be traversing around downtown Vancouver, and the quiet confines of the library. No matter how much I mentally prepared myself for this aspect of the trip, I had no idea as to how difficult it would actually be!

The Event

We met early at 7:45 at Lincoln Skytrain Station, before taking transit to downtown Vancouver. After splitting up into two different groups, I headed into the Central Branch at the Vancouver Public Library, and scurried to the top floor to grab as many books as I could humanly carry. Too quickly, however, time was up, and I dragged the volumes back down to the food court, where I had a delicious and eclectic meal of Hawaiian pizza with a chicken teriyaki bento box. Next, we visited Macleod’s Bookstore, and I was yet again astonished by the literally endless amount of novels. After finding just one book about Shostakovich (and one that will be featured in a future post – but not for the reasons you think), I started to peruse the shelves at random, helping friends find books or just looking out of curiosity. I absolutely plan to visit that store again in the near future, as I could literally spend hours upon hours getting lost in the sea of books. Since much time remained, we returned to the VPL to do a little more research, and returned back home at around 3. I was absolutely exhausted, and took a well-deserved nap as soon as I got home.


  1. Did I meet my goals?
    1. Absolutely. I checked a total of seven books about Shostakovich, and dug into a few of them immediately.
    2. This objective is a little more difficult to assess. My first mistake was to expect the exact same experience as I had in grade 9. This was obviously impossible, since my role in this trip was to be more of a mentor and a leader. Since there is absolutely no way I could have entered the 9’s heads and understand their experiences and feelings, I shouldn’t have banked so much on their enjoyment of the trip to define mine. That being said, I really did enjoy getting to know some of them, and was able to converse with around half of the class.
    3. I was not ready whatsoever for the perils of leading such a big group without the guidance of Ms. Mulder (nothing on you, Mr. S or Mr. Morris!). We left a 9 at the first Skytrain stop, countoff was an adventure in itself, and we got several slightly annoyed glances from other passengers on the Skytrain. However, the bonding experience between the entire classes would have been impossible if the event didn’t occur. This connects to my…


  1. When an educational experience is presented in a manner that brings learners together with a common goal (research), it is able to connect them in several ways.

My theme is very similar to that of last years, when I stated that “any work that got done was a bonus”. I think that we all enjoyed each other’s company very much, and are more cohesive as a group now.

That’s a wrap on the final library trip I’ll ever attend! More to come soon….


Begin Again: Eminent Intro Post 2017

So, Eminent Person, goodbye.

Until next year.

-Eminent Closing Post, 11/20/16

Until next year. Those words have been ricocheting around in my head the entire year, as the second go-around of this massive project approaches. I’ve been feeling immense pressure, to be honest. Pressure to go farther with this project, delve inside my eminent person, and somehow create an end result that is more rewarding for me than the project I completed last year (to put my expectations in context, my Glenn Gould experience has taken me to his grave, old apartment, and statue in Toronto, as well as meeting and becoming friends with his primary biographer). After much thought, deliberation, and consultation with several TALONS and TALONS alumni, my decision has been made.

Around two years ago, I read a YA Non-fiction book (if such a genre exists) about the Siege of Leningrad by Nazis from 1941-1944 entitled Symphony for the City of the Dead. Enchanted by its engaging and fast-paced prose, I became consumed by the tale of survival of thousands in a besieged, starvation-filled place. In between all that, I became fascinated with the story of a certain Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian composer who lived in Leningrad for a part of the occupation and wrote a symphony, the Seventh Symphony, that became world famous shortly afterwards.


That, however, is just one story of Shostakovich. In light of what I’ve learned in English about rejecting the single-story narrative, my Eminent Person’s biography must contain at least a few more important moments that are key to understanding his life.

Born in Saint Petersburg in 1906, Shostakovich displayed significant musical talent at a young age, and began to take piano lessons with his mother. He entered a conservatory at just thirteen, fostering his pianistic and compositional talents, and was named a rising Russian composer.

Everything changed on January 26, 1936. Shostakovich’s dark and lurid opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District was performing so well that Joseph Stalin, the Secretary of the Soviet Union himself (and murderer of millions of innocent citizens), decided to attend a performance. It couldn’t have gone worse. According to witnesses, Stalin shook every time the rightfully nervous orchestra played too loudly, and didn’t even stay for the entire show. The next morning, the official state newspaper had this to say about the opera: “Singing is replaced by shrieking. The music quacks, hoots, growls and gasps…”

Shostakovich subsequently fell into a deep depression. To compound his issues, 1936 is widely known as the start of Stalin’s Great Terror, where millions were sent to their deaths in labour camps, and several intelligentsia were executed. Multiple of Shostakovich’s friends and family were imprisoned, and Shostakovich feared that he would be next. He constantly lived in fear of imprisonment for the rest of his life, even after being restored back in the government’s favour, before being denounced yet another time in 1948 for writing ‘anti-formalist’ and having his compositions banned. After his death in 1975, his legacy erupted when a book named Testimony, purporting to be his memoirs, was published. He was revealed to be a revisionist, whose actions (joining the Communist party, writing commissioned works for the party celebrating its dominance, etc.) were made under a constant fear of imprisonment. Those who support this book believe that Shostakovich left musical codes in his works that evaded Soviet censors. A huge debate among historians was then launched concerning whether the book was legitimate or not (this will be discussed in a future post), a book about this subject has even been published, and endless online articles have been written.

So why Shostakovich?

First of all, I embarked on finding an eminent person that would give me a challenge. As can be seen in the table below, I do not share too many characteristics with Shostakovich, outside of our common passion for classical music.

Lucas Dmitri
Male Male
Taiwanese heritage Russian/Siberian heritage
Had two sisters only Had two sisters only
Pianist Pianist
Does not compose Composes
Classical music passion Classical music passion
(Hopefully will not) live under extreme pressure from external sources of power Lived under extreme pressure from external sources of power

Some barriers that could possibly get in the way of me fulfilling my goals include the fact that Shostakovich and I are of significantly different races. However, I believe that race is not an important factor in considering his story, and had very little importance on his actions/actions of those around him. More importantly is being able to understand who he was past the façade that has built in recent decades. Finally, among all this, I seek guidance from this man about how to attain a position of eminence that he did, being able to be a well-respected professional musician.

I want to immerse myself within his life, but more importantly, be able to apply his thoughts and ideas to other places in my life. He was known to be an incredibly private man, and little of his own personal thoughts remain (outside of Testimony). This presents to me an incredible opportunity to basically become a historian for a month, and make my own interpretations of how I want to portray him. I can unwrap the layers surrounding his personality, built up by time and legend, and try to find some version of this man that makes sense to me. For these reasons, I am especially excited to emulate Shostakovich in my speech. Some questions I have already brainstormed that I hope to answer through this study include:

  1. Who did Shostakovich really support? Was he an absolute Communist or underground dissident (to paraphrase the catchphrase of one of his biographies)?
  2. How should we interpret his music?
  3. If his music was in fact anti-Stalin, why did the government not notice these connotations, and arrest Shostakovich?
  4. How was Shostakovich able to move so many Russians with his music?

And, to extrapolate beyond this, I created another list of queries that are more universal:

  1. How should we interpret music, and how much of it can be seen as a personal statement by the composer/How much of the composer’s personality does it reveal?
  2. What role can music play in influencing others/society?
  3. When is it best to conform to others, and follow their wishes, or rebel in some form?
  4. How can one rebel against others whose views are not supported by the individual?

I do not expect to completely answer these questions, especially those of the second list, but hope to at least be able to gain some grasp of what they mean in my life.

As you can see, I’ve taken a pretty big risk by choosing Shostakovich. It could turn out that he was in full favour of Stalin, and truly supported the Communist Party and its purges. Or, just as disappointing, he was what the pro-Testimony supporters think all along: a complete dissident, dodging executions while implanting musical landmines in his compositions. I’m not sure if the results will be any close to those, though. Humans, especially musicians and composers with as many layers as Shostakovich, are nowhere as simple as that. I’ll find answers to a few questions, but real, exciting discoveries are certain to be few and far between. The joy I’ll really bask in will be exploring paths I accidentally stumble upon along the way, and making connections with myself that I never would have dreamed of.

Here’s to Eminent, to more adventures, and to more late nights filled with revelations.

Here we go again.





Until Next Year: Eminent Reflection 2016

I really should have written this right after Night of the Notables, when all the emotions were still flowing (but not the tears – the grade tens took care of that). Instead, I turned to our Facebook group:

I really don’t know if i can say this as a lowly nine but i am so proud of the tens. Having been to so many eminents but not realizing the work the stress the fear and the energy that goes into this and seeing each and every person on that stage is so beautiful
and in the closing circle when we all rubbed our hands is when i realized that talons is a family and we all love each other and we all care about each other and talons is a big happy fam and we’re all in this together

Awful punctuation and grammar aside, those few words reflected how I felt fairly well. But I’ll write about the other parts of my day, before all the sappy stuff.

(All pictures that I took on the night can be found here)

The real day started with the final bell. And as both classes gathered together for the first time in a while at 3:10, it was getting difficult to breathe.After a quick cleanup, the learning center setup started, and with it came the screams, frantic I-need-tables-please-let-there-be-enough-tables shouts, and blasting music from the tens. Perhaps the most relaxing and refreshing moment of the day was when I stepped out into the chilly November air to collect a few materials from my dad. Dinner was great. Enough was left for another meal the next day. We got the whole MPR to ourselves. Everyone was really loud. Yay.And then there were two hours. Once everyone had been satisfied with their learning centers, there was actually time to admire other ones, and I greatly enjoyed testing out the activities that various people had planned. The guests started to flow in at 6:30, and the grade tens ran off backstage for a pep talk and to do some nervous pacing. At exactly 7:00, the show started with a wonderful performance from Bob Dylan.

A wild Jackson spotted.

This was my ninth NOTN, and around the 250th speech I’ve watched. But I didn’t realize anything until I started to see the grade tens. The brief segments filled with passion, sadness, humour, and endless life lessons meant so much more when I knew the people behind the costumes. When I had heard their struggles in person, watched the antsy rehearsal with a number of speeches unwritten, and felt their uncomfortable spirits dancing around throughout the day of, I (as much as a grade nine can) was able to understand their pain and fear. But I remembered what got them on the stage in the first place giving those speeches. It was their passion for their eminent people, being their eminent people. It was the enthusiasm. It was the bravery. And that’s what I’ll take away the most, and store away for when I look out from the stage in less than 365 days.

Being a grade nine, my job was fairly easy, without any costumes, acting, or public speaking necessary, but that didn’t mean that I had any less fun. By the time cleanup had started, I talked to nearly 30 people, including parents, younger siblings, and very interesting alumni (with some very trippy questions). I think that the more visual and hands-on components of my learning center were very popular, and everyone loved sitting on Gould’s chair (though they were skeptical it would fall apart at first). The people I enjoyed talking to the most were those who knew a bit about classical music, piano, or Gould. That way, I could tell them about the more complex parts of my learning center and Gould’s personality and playing style, and factor in my own opinions as well. They were also the people came up with the most thoughtful questions, more than just the usual “Why did you choose this person?” and “Why are they eminent?”.

If you did miss it, here is my learning center:


I was extremely lucky to get a locker bay for my learning center, and my design revolved around the ability for strangers to walk inside the locker bay and peruse the materials I had laid out. I put the aspects of Gould that I wanted to learn about closest to the hallway, so they could look at it right away.


First of all, I put a poster of some photos of Gould on the top of the locker bay, so people could see who my eminent person was from far away.


The main component of my learning center was Gould’s chair. I also brought in a piano bench that I play on from home, so people could sit on both to see the difference.


I wasn’t able to bring a keyboard, so I just printed one out! The black paper at the bottom left edge of the frame was a brief description of Gould’s attachment with his chair. Above it is a quick summary of Gould’s life and personality, as I wanted to give people who didn’t have a chance to speak to me something to read. In front of the keyboard are some scores that Gould annotated, kindly provided to me by Kevin. Lying against the locker bay was a timeline of his life.


Above the timeline was a quick process on how I made his chair (the full process can be seen here).


Next, I chose to speak about Gould’s hypochondria. I found a hat, scarf, and gloves that Gould always wore. Right beside it were multiple pill bottles (thanks Michelle for supplying some), and a few pages of Gould tracking his blood pressure around every half hour (thanks again to Kevin for scanning me a few pages).


I also chose to speak about Gould’s love with the recording process. To the right of my blurb about it is a recording log. Above it are some various CD jackets that I own. On top of that are more annotated scores, as well as some books and sheet music I brought from home. I also included a video of Gould performing on a tablet, but it’s not in the photo (I took these before the night started).


Here are the two interviews I conducted with Kevin Bazzana and Tim Page.


I also made a poster board with quotes from critics, contemporaries, and Gould (for the composers side).


I served some food as well! Gould loved arrowroot biscuits, and asked for them at recording sessions along with Poland Spring Water (he hated tap water and thought that they were full of germs). But I couldn’t find spring water from Poland, so I had to compromise with French Spring Water (close enough!)


The final two components of my project were on the opposite wall. First was a collection of photos I took when I went to Gould’s hometown, Toronto (the post I made about that can be seen here).


Finally, I made a map of all the locations Gould made (the Eastern United States section was quite cramped, so I had to leave some locations out.

Overall, I believe the parts of Gould that I chose to focus on were quite interesting to research about and present to visitors. If I was to be able to change parts of it, I would devote a section to Gould’s personality and playing style, and feature more videos and recordings of him. But I think the chair was very engaging, as well as the documents I had collected and the pill bottles (everyone was intrigued about that!).

And then it was over. And then the cleanup was over. And as we all gathered in 204 for the closing circle, I had never heard the group that quiet. It was mostly composed of nines and tens (particularly tens) sitting on anything they could find – tables, chairs, the floor – and staring unmovingly into space. But when we started to clasp our hands with each other, and rubbed them together to unanimously thrust them into the center of the circle, that was when I understood TALONS and my place in it. And since it’s a little hard to put into words now what I felt at that moment, here – again – is the text I posted on our Facebook group just half an hour after the closing circle ended:

I really don’t know if i can say this as a lowly nine but i am so proud of the tens. Having been to so many eminents but not realizing the work the stress the fear and the energy that goes into this and seeing each and every person on that stage is so beautiful
and in the closing circle when we all rubbed our hands is when i realized that talons is a family and we all love each other and we all care about each other and talons is a big happy fam and we’re all in this together

I think now the initiation is over. Now, we are one group.

All in all, this project was extremely successful. Not only was I able to conduct an interview, create a learning center, and present a speech, I accomplished both of the rather ambiguous goals I set out for myself at the beginning of this project: I was learned about several aspects of his life beyond a Wikipedia article, by looking at his documents, speaking to people who knew him, and watching interviews. But, more importantly, I was able to gain a greater understanding of the classical music I play and how I play it, and nothing in this entire project was more powerful when I was able to speak with him when we sat together on a bench in Toronto.

To wrap up this ridiculously long post, here are some thanks I feel obligated to give to Gould and music intellectuals:

Colin Tilney – for replying to my email, providing a fairly telling opinion on Gould, and encouraging me to listen to some of his favourite Gould tracks.

Emanuel Ax – for taking a few moment from his incredibly busy touring life to recommend me a few books about Gould.

Tim Page – for providing an impromptu phone interview all the way from California, and give me a wonderful insight into his friendship with Gould, as well as autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Kevin Bazzana – for not only speaking with me for nearly two hours on Gould, but also providing me with several links of information and more than a dozen photos and documents that are unpublished. Thank you for always replying so promptly, and giving me extensive answers on any question I had.

A few more personal thank-you’s:

Ms Mulder, Mr Jackson, Mr Salisbury, and Ms Dingle (in order) – for helping take us on the enriching library trip, answering my many questions to do with many things, sitting on Gould’s chair while being 6’6” and allowing me to take a few photos, and helping me write my speech.

My dad – for helping me create Gould’s chair, and critiquing my learning center.

My sisters – for providing expert alumni evidence for just about everything to do with this project.

My fellow 9’s – for struggling together with me through the duration of this project, and enduring my savagery.

Finally, thank you, tens, for showing us the way.

Most importantly, thank you, Glenn Gould. Thank you for opening the door and allowing me into your life, to take a few pictures, write a few things down, collect a few things, listen to a few notes, and shut the door quietly, but firmly, behind me. Now, whenever I need to listen to some classical music, I know I’ll always gravitate towards your recordings. And I hope that I’ve done a little good to advance your legacy.

So, Eminent Person, goodbye.

Until next year.


Clearing House Pt. 2: Learning Center Creation

My penultimate eminent post, about how I made parts of my learning center.

This is my ninth eminent person, so I’ve seen my fair share of learning centers. I think the most powerful ones are areas that are interactive and present information through other means than text. Knowing that, I decided to compact my ideas into as little writing as possible, maximize my use of photos, engage the lesser-used senses (touch, taste). Here are the main components of my projects and how I made them (other parts will be featured in my learning center documentation post):

Documents of Gould – Due to Kevin having been to the National Archives, where Gould’s papers are stored, he had a full harddrive and cabinet of photocopies. He sent my more than a dozen photos of Gould, notepads he wrote on, annotated scores, scripts for television, and various miscellaneous things. The National Archives also had a website with tons of artifacts (I go into more detail on my annotated bi-blog-graphy. The actual presentation of this can be seen on my learning center documentation post – will be up soon! There’s a video shot of Gould’s apartment right after he died, and I used it as inspiration for my learning center.

Poster – I tried to stay away from writing on the poster, instead using it like a forum board: there was a section where Gould explained his interpretations, one where the best quotes from critics were featured, and various quotes from his contemporaries. In order to make the board fit in with my learning center, I taped black paper on either side of the tri-fold to create the atmosphere of a piano.

Chair – This was the main component of my project. Gould’s attachment with his chair was well-documented, and I chose to tell my speech from his perspective! The chair still exists and resides in a museum in Ottawa, and there are several photos of its current state. Below is the process of how I made it (the album can be viewed here):

First, I bought a black chair from a thrift store. I had to make sure it was solid, as I would be cutting parts of the legs off.

I then sawed off the piece connecting the pairs of legs, and cut off six inches off each leg.


I then removed the seat of the chair, as Gould sat on his so much that the seat fell apart as well, leaving just the frame.


Gould wasn’t only sitting on the outside frame of the chair, so I added a cross-section similar to his.


The design on the back of Gould’s chair was different than the one I had, so I sawed it off and made a design from cardboard.



Gould sat on his chair for nearly 30 years, and it gained a ghastly amount of wear and tear. So when I painted the design and the cross section of the chair, I made sure to make irregular strokes and scratch the chair legs with a knife and sandpaper.


Finally, I glued it together.


Bonus: here’s a pic of me looking very confused while sitting at the piano on the chair.


The overall experience of making Gould’s chair was very fun, and it was great that I could actually try playing piano on the chair (it was very difficult). When people come around to my learning center, I’ll definitely get as many participants as possible to sit on it!