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The Late Starters Orchestra Hardcover – June 10, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (June 10, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156512992X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565129924
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Goldman led a rich, full life in his late 50s, with family, faith, and career (former New York Times reporter, professor of journalism at Columbia, author of three books, including the best-selling The Search for God at Harvard, 1991). But when he took his cello to his first rehearsal of the New York Late Starters String Orchestra, his “middle-aged musical obsession” blossomed. Despite his bad back (a particular problem for a cellist) and everything going on in his life and the world at large, he determined to become a musician and to play at his sixtieth birthday party. Goldman recounts first taking up the cello at 26 after a chance meeting with Mr. J, who became his beloved teacher, and later introducing his youngest child, Judah, to his instrument and watching the boy’s proficiency grow far beyond his own. Brief sketches of Goldman’s fellow late-starter musicians add interest and make this more than just a memoir about music and all that it offers; it is also a warm and moving testament to the opportunities of aging. --Michele Leber


“More than just a memoir about music and all that it offers; it is also a warm and moving testament to the opportunities of aging.” Booklist

The Late Starters Orchestra is a joy to read--moving, funny, and deeply true in its depiction of those aspirations we put aside until, one day, we realize it’s now or never. Ari Goldman’s quest to master the cello is an inspiration for dreamers everywhere.” —Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick

“We’re all living longer. What should we do with the time? Ari Goldman has a solution. The Late Starters Orchestra is warm, soulful, sometimes rueful, sometimes passionate--just like his beloved cello. I found myself laughing out loud in places--and unexpectedly moved at the end.” —Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Beak of the Finch

“A lovely, moving story of personal rediscovery disguised as a book about cello-playing. Part memoir, part cultural study, The Late Starters Orchestra is is candid, wise, and inspiring, a book a rich and true as an open ‘A.’” —David Hajdu, music critic for The New Republic

“I've long believed that there is a musician hiding in each one of us. Ari Goldman's new book, The Late Starters Orchestra, gives us back our natural right to make music. Goldman's adventure of becoming a cellist is filled with trials, perseverance, humor, and wonderful anecdotes. It's an inspiration!” —Julia Wolfe, co-founder of Bang on a Can

"A poignant and loving meditation on teachers and students, fathers and sons, and the great resilience and capacity of the human brain." —Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I'm enjoying this growing genre of books about middle-aged people taking up a musical instrument, either for the first time or decades after last playing. Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age, A Devil to Play: One Man's Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra's Most Difficult Instrument, and Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible are a few I've read and liked.

The Late Starters Orchestra has its author, Ari Goldman, getting reacquainted with the cello in his late fifties. He's determined to learn enough to play a few songs for his friends at his 60th birthday party. It's difficult, with his job as journalism professor at Columbia University and a lively family. But he sticks with it, as his old cello teacher, now dead, continues to inspire with remembered words of encouragement.

Since Goldman lives in Manhattan, he has access to many music groups, including entire orchestras made up of amateurs of all levels of experience. He tries a few of them, as well as several music camps both in New York and in England. His experiences are interesting and amusing, as is the fact that his young son took up cello at age six and quickly passed his father. For a while, Ari and his son were able to play in the same beginner's orchestra.

Goldman's struggle to achieve his self-imposed goal is easy to identify with. He also gives us profiles of many of the adult learners he meets along the way. By the time you finish you have to admit, there's no reason not to tackle learning bassoon or Mandarin or how to fly a plane.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Ferrante on July 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The Late Starters Orchestra is a cozy little book suited for all readers interested in music for anyone interested in learning a new skill later in life. Ari L. Goldman, a highly experienced writer, relates his personal experiences with returning to the cello after twenty-five years away.

After retirement many people are concerned about how to keep their brains sharp and their lives interesting. Goldman mentions several ways to reduce our brain age, focusing on the incredible power of music. As well, he examines how introducing a young child to music improves their math abilities and stimulates brain growth in specialized areas. Both the old and the young do better in memory tasks than nonmusicians.

Goldman introduces the reader to various amateur music groups including The Late Starters Orchestra. We follow his journey as he sets a personal goal to play exemplary music on the cello on his 60th birthday. On the way, we're introduced to numerous people whose lives have been dramatically improved by returning to our beginning music at a later stage in life, from Dan who lost his job to Geraldine who totes her double bass seven hours by car to participate in an amateur orchestra. Goldman makes it very clear that learning an instrument, especially a stringed one, is challenging and requires commitment and extensive effort at any age but the benefits are worth it.

Goldman reiterates Malcolm Gladwell's statement that 10,000 hours of practice are required to become expert at anything. (If you haven't read Gladwell's books, check them out. They're fascinating sociology/psychology texts.) Goldman admits that no one his age has 10,000 hours and that's okay. Do what you can, where you can, when you can, and it will still make a difference to the quality of your life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover
In this warm, honest, inspiring memoir Ari L. Goldman (The Search For God At Harvard) shares his life to date, specifically as it concerns his passion - the cello. Albeit this is a passion that has lain fallow for 25 years and is picked up again when the author nears his 60th year.

Now a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Goldman is a former New York Times reporter who started playing cello in his mid-twenties. He was fortunate in being under the tutelage of a masterful teacher whom he regarded with great affection and came to call Mr. J. He studied with Mr. J. For seven years, and to this day words of guidance and inspiration from his teacher remain in Goldman's mind.

However, as Goldman's career grew and his family expanded he put aside his cello bowing to life's practical economic demands. Yet as time passed his cello was not forgotten and he determined to play again in order to perform at his 60th birthday party. Of course, he is plagued by doubts but soldiers on by securing a new teacher, joining the Late Starters Orchestra of New York City, giving up the gym in order to have more time to practice, securing a seat on his 11-year-old son's youth orchestra, and more.

Along the way he learned many lessons, such as "If you think you can play, you can." and to be confident, "If you look frightened the audience will only feel bad for you." Also included in this memoir are the stories of other members of the Late Starters Orchestra of NYC, why they returned to their particular instrument and what music means to them.

While this is, of course, a story about music and musicians it is a story for everyone reminding us of the great resiliency of the human brain and all the opportunities available to us as we grow older. Mr. Goldman has given us a gift in this wonderful story of personal rediscovery - I would love to hear him play!


- Gail Cooke
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