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Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music Paperback – June 8, 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 224 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

By age 16, the author of this alternately piquant and morose memoir was dealing marijuana, bedding her instructors at a performing arts high school and studying the oboe. Later, her blossoming career as a freelance musician in New York introduced her to a classical music demimonde of cocaine parties and group sex that had her wondering why she "got hired for so many of my gigs in bed." But the vivace of the chapters on her bohemian salad days subsides to a largo as she heads toward 40 and the sex and drugs recede along with dreams of stardom; the reality of a future in Broadway orchestra pits (where she reads magazines as she plays to stave off boredom) sets in. Tindall escaped to journalism, but her resentment of an industry that "squeezed me dry of spontaneity" and turns other musicians into hollow-eyed "galley slaves" is raw. She mounts a biting critique of the conservatories that churn out thousands of graduates each year to pursue a handful of jobs, the superstar conductors and soloists who lord it over orchestral peons and a fine arts establishment she depicts as bloated and ripe for downsizing. Tindall's bitterness over what might still strike many readers as a pretty great career is a bit overdone, but she offers a fresh, highly readable and caustic perspective on an overglamorized world. Photos. Agent, James Fitzgerald. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

For the author, an oboist and journalist, a certain Upper West Side apartment building, long popular with musicians, is a metaphor for classical music in America today: a Beaux-Arts façade masking an increasingly decrepit infrastructure. Tindall's book, her first, is hardly free of false notes. Paragraphs full of dire predictions and alarming statistics jibe a little too conveniently with her tales of professional disappointment and sexual promiscuity. As Tindall sleeps her way to the bottom, we learn more than we probably need to about the sex lives of some more or less prominent American musicians. But Tindall's central complaint—that the classical-music world has created a crisis by training too many musicians and supporting a culture of exorbitant pay for a few fortunate stars—is difficult to refute.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (June 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802142532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802142535
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (224 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Weed on March 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I write this, there are some 54 other reviews of this book on Amazon, some quite supportive, some vitriolic, some in-between. Ms. Tindall has clearly touched a nerve (or two) in a number of us, no doubt reflecting the importance of classical music to many of us, but also reflecting the disappointment of the realities of career-making in the field for a fair number of us that make the attempt.

I went to music school in the 70's (a few years before Tindal), but gave it up, professionally, not long thereafter. In a word, there were too many talented players, and too few jobs. But I've stayed involved with it since, and some of my closest friends are (or were) musicians.

Tindall seems to have been among that too-large group of players who were very, very good, but not so outstanding as to knock down all doors in her way. As a result, she had a tough experience. She made mistakes. She let professional relationships become personal and sexual, quickly. She engaged in a certain amount of "self-medicating" (mainly with alcohol, as far as I could tell). It took her a long time to realize that she had to pull out of a self-destructive spiral.

But then she did it, and lived to write about it. It's a very human story, and I'm glad she had the courage to tell it.

A real resonance in this book, for me, and I think for a number of others, was how deeply one can dig oneself into the notion that "I must live as an artist/bohemian," in almost complete ignorance of there being many other potentially-satisfying worlds out there. Certainly for me, giving up on the idea of living life as a musician involved many sleepless nights. Then, trying to take on the world of suits and ties and commutes downtown was like learning to live in a foreign country.
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Format: Paperback
About ten years ago, I watched a PBS nature program about a unique tribe of chimpanzees that besides eating plants, also hunts and eats monkeys. Monkey meat is rare and precious to the chimps. A chimp who manages to catch a monkey can't eat it all, and shares the meat with a few other chimps. The distribution of monkey meat always follows a distinct pattern. Meat is given to relatives, political supporters and sexually available young females. All the other chimps get none. This pattern sounded awfully familiar... what did it remind me of? Jobs in freelance classical music, of course!

The fact that Mozart in the Jungle provoked such passionate, articulate and conflicted reviews speaks volumes about its powerful effects on its readers. IMHO, the people who gave low ratings did so for questionable reasons (solipsism, hurt feelings, personal issues, denial, etc.), unrelated to the quality of Tindall's writing. Winning a couple of orchestra auditions straight out of Juilliard spared me from having to live in the vipers' pit of freelancing described in the book, but I saw enough to recognize it anyway. You can't make this stuff up. The narrative is captivating; I could hardly put the book down. Obviously, not all musicians live this way or have such extreme histories; you wouldn't want to read mine, for example, unless a soporific was indicated. This memoir is well worth reading; not necessarily for the juicy gossip, but for the human story and the larger issues it touches upon.
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I attended both schools with Blair Tindall and witnessed much of what she described in this book. I can corroborate much that occured at both NCSA (North Carolina School of the Arts) and MSM (Manhattan School of Music). Her experience was not unique at all, but was the norm for students attending a performing arts high school (which also happened to have a college department where college students and teachers would prey on high school students, both female and male). My only criticism of this book is that she is actually TOO EASY on some of the teachers she mentions. Blair is actually quite charitable to them considering the appalling behavior we all endured on a day to day basis! She could have really raked them over the coals, but she chose to play nice, contrary to what some other reviewers have said. Blair must have suffered from having been a whistle-blower, but I applaud her bravery. It's also a really well-written book and I found it hard to put down.
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I want to make it clear for once and for all. Of the three oboe students of Mr. Robinson I remember, the least talented became a principal oboist of one of the top five orchestras. And Blair was by far the most talented of the three. Blair was that good. She was exceptional, golden, sparkling. She had star quality in spades. The next-best oboist I met has been with the Cleveland Orchestra for years. She was good enough to play in a top orchestra. She did not lack in musicality, tone quality, inspiration, personality or anything else. Chalk it up to misfortune or politics that she did not get such a position. Do not carp about her talent or try to minimize it. It is a great loss to music that she went on into other fields, but creative people may do that.
In that scene, many musicians were craven, most were desperate to get ahead no matter what, and there were no real moral standards at that time. One group was known to have had more or less of an orgy, which I believe made it into her book. The times were wild, free sex, drugs, alcohol. Not that everyone participated. And there was a tremendous amount of empty showing off, arrogance, egotism, manipulation, conspiracy, just about everything you could think of and then some. In many ways, New York in the 1980s was a reprehensible place.
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