By Contributing Author, Penny Johnson

Nearly every Canadian has heard of the Kiwanis Music Festival, a music and speech arts competition held yearly in most urban communities across the country.  As the celebrated Gould scholar, Kevin Bazzana explains in his book, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, Kiwanis Music Festivals “had been fixtures on the English-Canadian music scene from the beginning of the twentieth century, and many people perceived them as a healthy force for cultural betterment.”  

Having performed in eight years worth of Kiwanis Music Festivals myself, while growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, I have vivid memories of the volunteer ‘Kiwanians’ as they are commonly known, serving their community and youth at large, with openness and pride.  While Glenn Gould never participated in any competitions as an adult – throughout his career he made many claims to the negative effects of competition – he did perform in the first three Toronto Kiwanis Music Festivals of 1944, 1945, and 1946 respectively.

Recently I caught up with former York University Professor and author, Stephen Endicott, who at the age of sixteen competed against Gould in the inaugural festival of 1944.  “I enjoyed playing piano, however I was by no means a concert pianist,” remarked the eighty-two year old Endicott, who began playing as a child in rural China.  “My parents were missionaries in the western province of Sichuan, and they both played musical instruments.  In 1941 when I was thirteen, my family returned to Canada and I resumed lessons at a local branch of the Royal Conservatory of Music, which at that time was known as the Toronto Conservatory of Music.  I remember my favourite piece was Schubert’s A-flat major Impromptu op. 142 #2.

“In the spring of 1944, I entered the Kiwanis Music Festival, which was held at the old YWCA on McGill Street near College and Yonge.  It was a pleasant building.  I had just completed my grade eight piano exam as well as the corresponding theory tests, and had prepared the first two movements of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for the class.  Our adjudicator, Max Pirani, was a rather filled out middle-aged man, who had been brought over from Britain.  Before we gave our performances, Max Pirani addressed the seven of us in the class with some introductory remarks about the sonatas of Beethoven.  Most of the kids in the class were about sixteen or seventeen years of age, except for this one skinny little kid sitting on the right hand side.  [Laughs]  It was Glenn Gould, and he was much younger than everyone else.”

Glenn Gould was not quite twelve years old at the time of the 1944 Kiwanis Music Festival, and indeed he was the youngest in the class.  “I really don’t remember how Glenn played, or anyone else for that matter,” recalled Endicott.  “When you’re sitting in the front row with the rest of the contestants, it’s hard to listen to their performances because you’re so focused on your own piece.  I do remember that there were a few performances of the Moonlight.  It was a popular choice.  

“After everyone had finished playing, Max Pirani stood up and walked over to us with his comments and final marks.  I remember the exact words with which he began his address: ‘We have heard something extraordinary this evening.’  Of course he was referring to Glenn Gould, who eventually won the class.  Afterwards, we went over to congratulate Glenn, however as I recall, he didn’t say much.  Glenn was extremely modest and unassuming.  Then, as the years went on, of course, we all came to know who Glenn Gould was.”

Glenn Gould however, was not the only bright light in that Kiwanis class of 1944, for Endicott himself went on to have a remarkable career as an educator, historian, and author.  A graduate of the University of Toronto, and the School of Oriental Studies at London University, Endicott – who speaks fluent West Mandarin – went on to teach East Asian History at York University for twenty-two years.  Following an early retirement from York in the 1990’s, he returned to the Sichuan province where his family lived for several generations.  “Having grown up in China prior to the Communist revolution, I wanted to find out what had happened during the thirty years of leadership under Mao Zedong,” Endicott explained.  “I interviewed the poor, the rich, and even the former landlords.”

Endicott has since published several books including James G. Endicott: Rebel Out of China (University of Toronto Press, 1980), Red Earth: Revolution in a Sichuan Village (I.B. Tauris, London, 1988 and NC Press, Toronto, 1989), Bienfait: The Saskatchewan Miners’ Struggle of ’31 (University of Toronto Press, 2002), and the controversial The United States and Biological Warfare (Indiana University Press, 1998).

As one who has been fortunate enough to interview people who came into contact with Glenn Gould in one way or another – be it as a friend, studio colleague, fellow musician, collaborator, or fellow Kiwanis contestant – I am struck by the diversity of backgrounds that these individuals possess.  While Endicott never came to know Gould well, nor did he work alongside him in a recording project or television program, I cannot help noticing similarities between the two.  Like it has been said about Gould, Endicott is a deeply caring, intelligent, and soft-spoken gentle soul who, alongside Lena, his delightfully charming wife of fifty-nine years, holds a tremendous passion for nature.  The two possess a zest for life that complements the wisdom of their years.

For further information on Stephen Endicott, visit