Benoit Glazer is a unique, talented and passionate man on a musical mission. To say he personifies focused energy would be a massive understatement.
“I do everything with intensity,” he said. “I don’t believe in doing something halfway or half-cocked. I go all the way in everything I do.”
This is a story about going all the way.
Glazer is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and conductor who played professionally all over the world before taking a major risk and moving from Montreal to Orlando to become musical director of “La Nouba” for Cirque du Soleil.
“When we came to the United States in 1998, my wife and I had three, young kids and were $43,000 in debt. We just said, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’” Glazer said.
“La Nouba” was a significant musical challenge and a major success for Glazer. He loved working for Cirque du Soleil but quickly became restless on his two nights off.
“It was very hard in 1999 to find any good live music or exceptional cultural experiences on a Tuesday or Wednesday night in Orlando,” he recalled. “So, we decided to have a concert at our house.”
Glazer knew how to find musicians. But every concert needs an audience, so he and his wife, Elaine, and their three young children, went door-to-door around the neighborhood to spread the word.
“We knocked on our neighbors’ doors and said, ‘We’re having a concert at the house,’” recalls his son, Charles Glazer. “It’s a new thing we’re trying out. Just come over and bring a little plate of food to share.”
They put out a few bottles of wine, moved the furniture and created a small space for the musicians and their audience. It was just going to be one concert — a chance to entertain the neighbors and keep Benoit Glazer from being bored on a Tuesday night.
“But as soon as it was over, everyone asked, ‘When is the next one?’ And that’s how it all began,” Glazer said. Word spread about Glazer’s living-room concerts; and quickly, his living room wasn’t big enough. When the audience spilled out the door and into the backyard, the music man became the demolition man.
“He knocked down one of the walls to make the living room bigger,” said his son.
Glazer didn’t stop there. After tearing down a second wall, his passion project ran into the proverbial wall and it was time to consider another major risk.
“Elaine and I sat down and said, ‘We can pull back on the concerts or we can put all the money we’ve ever made, and the money we’ll ever make, into building a new house with something more appropriate for the concerts. But if we do that, we might not have a comfortable retirement.’ And we said, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’” Glazer said.
They found a neighborhood lot with plenty of public parking nearby, tore down the existing house and began building what would become known to musicians worldwide as the White House. The White House features a three-story, nearly acoustically perfect living room designed by Glazer.
“It’s not just a living room. It’s a living room. It’s a listening room,” he says in arguably the understatement of the year.
Over the years, the Glazers have hosted more than 800 concerts in their living room. For the first 15 years, the children, as young as two, opened for all the concerts. “If it was jazz, I would teach them some jazz, and we would play jazz together,” Glazer said. “If it was classical, we learned and played classical. Indian music, salsa, whatever — they learned to play and perform it all. My youngest son was performing
live when he was just two.”
Like Glazer, the children are now multi-instrumentalists and vocalists. When
they get together, a concert can break out at any moment.
The regulars have enjoyed seeing the children grow into adults and
accomplished musicians, one performance at a time. In 2019, Camille Glazer was diagnosed with cancer when she was just 24. The community who watched her grow up sprang into action. Artists donated pieces of work to sell to offset medical costs and people around the world reached out with their best wishes.
Glazer kept everyone updated on her progress via his Facebook page and in the spring of 2021, he shared this good news: “It was two years ago that we got the call that every parent dreads. Camille, in Thailand for a surgery internship at the time, had just been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Happy to report that she is still in remission, after a tough battle in 2019.”
Of course, her health battle wasn’t the only one the family faced in recent years. Like so many arts organizations, the White House struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The master of improv quickly transitioned to livestreaming previous events on their social channels, something they continue to do today, even after the return of live events.
The real draw has always been the eclectic mix of talent that Glazer brings to programs at the White House.
“We are focused on letting musicians play what they want and how they want to play it,” he said proudly. “Unlike most venues, it’s not about selling tickets or food and drinks. It’s art for art’s sake. That’s why we did it, and that’s why we still do it. It’s as simple as that.”
There’s not a genre of music that Glazer hasn’t presented in his living room, including classical, heavy metal, Latin, rock, jazz, bluegrass, Indian, African and more. “There’s sort of this lust for the best room,” said musician Matt Gorney. “You want to play in a creative place, and you want it to sound great. You want the presentation to be professional. You want the audience and the people putting on the show to care. And with the White House, it’s like check, check, check and check. That’s what this place does. It checks off all of these things.”
Glazer has heard similar comments from other musicians.
“People from all over the world have played here; and without exception, everybody tells me that they have never experienced something quite like this or even close to this,” Glazer said. “It’s just different.”
For the Glazer family, it’s all about making art accessible. The White House fosters a sense of community by not only allowing but encouraging patrons to bring their own wine and food to performances. Children are always welcome to performances, most of which are free.
“Arts, in my mind, are the highest form of human endeavor,” Glazer said. “And education is the most important human activity. If you can put those two together then you have a winning combination.”