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A Minor: A Novel of Love, Music & Memory Paperback – June 1, 2014
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Overture—A piece functioning as an introduction to a dramatic work
“Over 500 concerts, 357 encores, 52 premieres, and I’m still trying to figure them out. You’d think I’d be over it by now,” Clare said as Nero opened the door to the back of his “city” car. Heading home to New Hampshire after another raging success in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Nero couldn’t believe he was about to endure another post-concert critique session. How many premieres? How many drives have I listened to this? Clare ranting on, reliving every encore, picking apart every note, heartfully considering the audience’s response and caring nothing about mine. When was the last time she asked me what I thought of the performance? He couldn’t remember.
“The Chopin was good. Seiji Ozawa is a marvel. Did you hear the resonance in the basses in the second movement? And what he did with the percussion? It was so subtle, yet strikingly clear. To me, the cadenza was weak. Did you notice it? My articulation was off.” On and on it went, Clare writing her own review as Nero drove in silence.
“Clare, let’s pull off in Gloucester for a bite,” Nero suggested. “I think we need to talk about something more than the music.”
Nero could see as he glanced at Clare in the rearview mirror that she was still back in Symphony Hall, moving through the measures in her mind, oblivious to his hunger. They held to their tradition of stopping in Gloucester to eat at Jacob’s Wharf, the midpoint of their trip back home to the farm. This spot had provided solace from the crowd. They wound their way through the docks, taking in the late-night descent of peace, the lapping water against the skiffs at rest. As they walked toward the single yellow porch light, Nero saw Clare was beginning to “come to.” So often after a concert, she lived in her own musical space for hours, sometimes even days, before coming back to him. Maybe a beer and a bowl of seafood chowder would fortify them for the remaining four-hour drive, he hoped. Clare reached out for Nero’s warm hand as they ascended the crumbling flagstone steps. Nero withdrew, forcing his clamped fists down into his pockets.
Inside the restaurant, Nero slumped down against the torn, red plastic booth and reached for the coffee-stained menu. He knew what he wanted, New England clam chowder and a divorce. Putting it that way keeps things simple; no need to get bogged down by too many words. Maybe I could tell the waitress in my order and Clare would get the hint. Nero looked over his left shoulder and raised a hand to flag the server’s attention. She’s a fresh-faced new addition here.
His mind flashed back to Satchel’s Coffee Shoppe, where they first met in their New England Conservatory days. Even with the taffeta ball gown and jewelry, she doesn’t look much older than the afternoon of our first shared cup of coffee almost thirty years ago. He watched her study the menu with her typical piercing intentionality. She ran her left hand through her frosted hair, causing her golden bracelets to shinny up her elbow. It was going to be hard to let her go, he knew. After drawing in a breath so deep he felt like he was preparing to jump into a frigid Adirondack lake, he released the words.
“Clare, I can’t do this anymore. I need a break, an intermission from all of it. I’ve given up everything for your career, and what am I? I’m nothing more than your driver, your accomplice without a life. My own art doesn’t exist. We bought the farm so we would both have a home to create in and be artists together. Remember?” Clare looked shaken, startled, and Nero watched her visibly shiver, like a cold draft had overtaken and disarmed her. She methodically put the menu down on the laminated pine table.
“Well, the farm is nothing more than a place for me to grow tomatoes and park the car. I haven’t created anything. We haven’t created anything. We thought we’d make art or children together. Instead, we have a scrapbook full of you, not us.”
Clare sat stunned, attempting to steady herself in the face of his accusations. Nero could see that she was not going to formulate a hasty defense. She grabbed hold of a salt shaker and tapped it on the tabletop while staring out the darkened pane of glass. The streetlight cast a distorted shadow on her profile that appropriately captured the duplicity of their relationship. She looked like one of Picasso’s Weeping Women, her face broken into deranged segments. He tried to burn the image into his memory by closing his eyes, hoping to render it later in sculpted form.
“Clare, are you all right? Do you have anything you want to say?” Nero asked.
“I’m trying to remember when we went wrong,” Clare responded, refusing to turn and look into Nero’s eyes.
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Top Customer Reviews
This story was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Two interwoven lives drive the tale: the student piano prodigy, who gets new wind into his sails when he meets a new teacher, and the teacher (a former prodigy), whose time is almost over and who gives everything she can for the student. I don't want to give spoilers, but you will cry when various events take place in both of their lives. You will learn about music and memory, and how music can help those whose memory may be failing. I'll bet you can still remember and sing a number of songs that you used to hear on the radio in your adolescence, and furthermore that your mind recalls the situation you were in when you heard them, such as being at a concert or sitting at the beach with a transistor radio (yes, I'm ancient) or making out in the car by the light of the FM transceiver (yes, the 1970s had their perks). The ways in which music may help people and build new brain connections are briefly mentioned, and you will want to research them once you finish reading this.
If your device is capable of playing the music files, you can listen to the piano works that the characters are playing as you read. My original Kindle couldn't do that, but when I went to the front matter of the book where all the pieces were listed, there was a music player that popped up, and I listened to them there. You'll be surprised if you think you don't know the pieces, because you probably DO; you've heard them in the background of films, cartoons, TV programs, and elevators. (LOL) You will want to download the free sheet music versions and play them, I guarantee. (There are many sites offering free sheet music to print--just be sure you get the versions that are not edited and therefore copyrighted.)
See also the interview with the author and the discussion questions that are included at the end of the text. Lots of extras with this one.
I can relate to the life of a pianist. At age eight I planned to attend Juilliard and worked every spare moment at perfecting my piano performance, but because I didn't start official lessons until that age--way too late, at least by the standards of the 1970s--and because my parents wouldn't support my pursuit (I attended an after-school freebie class instead of private lessons), I really never developed the chops. I still play classical music for myself and I play by ear as well (show tunes, pop, Christmas carols, ballads). If this describes you at all--or if you just wish you had the talent for music--you will love seeing the "inside track" of REAL piano people. The sacrifices musicians must make are parallel to the ones ballet dancers must make . . . no other extracurriculars, no sports to endanger your fingers (or toes, for dancers), hours of practice time. I also wrote about a gifted pianist with synaesthesia in LOVE IS THE BRIDGE by Denise Weeks, so I have never really left behind that childhood fantasy/dream. This book will take you there for real.
Following the tale of Clare Cardiff, a world-renowned pianist with early-onset dementia and her student Clive Serkin, a teenage piano prodigy, A Minor is a beautiful peek into the world of classical music. Reading about Clive and Clive made me realize how very rich music can be - and even as someone who has played piano my whole life, this book felt like it was peeling back the layers of an unknown world to me. And best of all? I could listen to the pieces being described as I was reading. I don't know that I have ever really LISTENED to Chopin like that before. It was breathtaking.
This book is gentle and compelling. Philbrick tells a story which shows the complexity of human life. There are no perfect characters in her story: they all make mistakes, but she handles each of them with respect. I loved that the people in this story treat each other with grace: it was so refreshing to read something where the dialog was KIND, without being saccharine or cliched.
The story itself is meticulously researched in the fields of music and mental illness - and yet it doesn't read like a research book, it reads like a compelling story. I found myself whipping through the pages to find out how Clive fares in the Russian Piano Competition and what happens to Clare.
I loved the play on words in the title: A Minor, being a key in which music is written, and a minor, as in a young person like Clive, under the tutelage of others. It is a coming-of-age story, a love story, and I already know whose hands I will press this book into next.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Shows how deep music goes into our psyche. Done!