Piano Lessons

Classification: Non-fiction

My littlest and I were at the library for story time last Wednesday, and I had to return a movie, and the drop slots are right there by the “used books for sale” shelves, so it’s really not my fault.

Of course I had to sidle over, to see if there was anything interesting for sale.

Of course there was. There almost always is.

Within seconds, I found a book I wanted, but I didn’t buy it right away – give me some credit. After all, as I’ve mentioned, my to-be-read collection at home now encompasses nearly two shelves of a bookcase. You do not NEED another book, I scolded myself. You put a moratorium on yourself last week, remember?

So the boy and I went into the kid’s room, where they were doing a special program on the Chinese New Year, which involved them singing songs in Chinese, which I didn’t understand, which gave me plenty of time to think about the book waiting outside on the sale shelf.

I already knew I’d love it. I never buy a book unless I’m reasonably sure it’s going to be really good – and this was one that I was positive was going to be really good. As my boy listened to a fable about how the Chinese assign an animal to each year, I pulled out my checkbook and wrote out a check for one dollar. After story time was over, I dropped the money in the box and collected my new book.

Five minutes later, while waiting in the preschool car line, I started reading it.

Half a page later, I was in love with it.

It’s called Piano Lessons: Music, Love, and True Adventures. The author is Noah Adams, who was the long-time host of NPR’s All Things Considered (he now runs the station’s national desk.)

I used to listen to All Things Considered during my afternoon commute in Atlanta, and I loved the stories Noah told; loved the way they were written, and his rich, distinctive voice (although, the way he said his name, it sounded like it had just one syllable – until I picked up this book, I thought his name was “Nole.”)

Piano Lessons follows Noah’s fifty-first year of life, during which he bought a piano (a Steinway!) and then resolved to learn to play it. A lifelong music lover, he had already interviewed countless musicians on his show, and had been to many concerts. He gives anecdotes from interviews with famous pianists, and mixes in some history of the instrument. He writes about trips he took during his year of learning, and how hard it was to find time to practice, sometimes, and how the process could be so discouraging and so rewarding, at the same time.

Admittedly, part of the reason I loved this book was because I am a pianist, so I understood everything Noah wrote about the technical aspects of learning to play. And, like most of the pianists Noah has interviewed, I adore a “real” (hammer and strings) piano and dislike playing any kind of electric keyboard. This book is largely a love letter to my chosen instrument.

I’m quite sure, though, that this book would appeal to almost anyone, musical or not. Noah is a marvelous writer – he reminds me of E.B. White, a little (and if you’ve read my previous post on White, you know what high praise that is.) He has a similar charming, effortless tone that is part natural talent, and part “lots and lots of practice.”

Piano Lessons is a smallish book, and was an easy read – a few scattered evenings for me. It was so interesting, and so delightful, that I set aside all the other books I’m in the middle of, so I could read it straight through.

I love it when that happens.

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7 Responses to Piano Lessons

  1. Serendipity on the ivories…I think that happens a lot! I have been thinking for a while that you may want to offer your wonderful talent to the Outlook (if it is still in business) or the Oregonian. They may balk at how well you write, but most papers are looking to publish “interest articles” and your literary critiques are superb. The thing I appreciate most about how you write about writers and writing is your enthusiasm. You do not put on the stuffy cloak of a critic, even when you are being critical. The nice thing about this blog is that you have material you can offer as examples of your work. If you were to join the paper, I would hope you would continue to write about things published in the past, jewels are often overlooked when they are first published or forgot after they are no longer popular. [Bonus: regularly published reviewers get free books!…worth a try just for that opportunity, yes?!]

    • Your judgment is perhaps clouded by your fondness for me. 🙂

      I thank you very much, though. And I completely agree with you about finding gems from the past…those are some of my favorite books! Which reminds me of another obscure book I read lately…hmm…perhaps a future blog post?

      And FREE BOOKS?! You know I’m on board! Do they come along with time to read them?

      Thanks for reading. I really do appreciate it, and your kind words.

  2. Tony Alicea says:

    People still use checkbooks? 😉

    Great review Cathy. You passion makes me wish I could play the piano…or any instrument for that matter (other than the cow bell, of course).

  3. Anna Combs says:

    Wonderful, Cathy–no wonder you were drawn to the book–you are and was and forever will be a great pianist! Two of my sons took lessons from Dianna, your mom, many moons ago–they resisted the fact that they had to take lessons–but both of them are pretty decent pianists! You inspire me so much–I love our “blogs!” Keep up the good work!!

    • Thank you so much…but you KNOW you are forever the queen of piano! I still can’t do what you do…how could I forget your ability to play anything by ear? I struggled with that for a long time…I still can’t figure out really complicated chords very quickly.

      I didn’t know your boys played…the two youngest, I’m thinking? How wonderful! They must have all gotten their mom & dad’s musical genes! 🙂

  4. Jerry (dad) says:

    One of my favorite memories, and it will always be. Is visiting you in Atlanta Georgia, laying on the living room floor and listening to you play the piano for me. Thank you for never giving up playing, you are my favorite piano player (Anna Combs is a close second)
    Dad

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