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Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music Paperback – August 5, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Waylaid from an early career as a classical guitarist, a teacher of the arts recounts his reimmersion in his music by undertaking an intensive regime of practicing. A serious artist is constantly plagued by the fear that he either has the gift or he doesn't, notes Kurtz, and that no amount of busy work can redeem him. Growing up in Great Neck, N.Y., in the 1970s, Kurtz tapped into the Guitar Workshop and mastered folk songs by the time he was 10; inspired by seeing Andrés Segovia perform, Kurtz envisioned a life devoted to music. He studied at Boston's New England Conservatory, where the key to success was constant practicing, and where he had to overcome a sense of the guitar's inferiority to other instruments. Trekking through Europe with other players, he was confronted with the economic exigencies of a musical career and eventually ceased practicing, to his great sorrow. In his mid-30s he took up the guitar again and gleans the painful lesson that although musical artistry may seem divine, mastery of the instrument is humbling and mundane. Kurtz's work contains a rich history of the classical guitar, including the work of Bach, Fernando Sor and Scott Joplin.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Guitar was the young Kurtz's passion. From lessons as a child, through summers at a guitar camp where he learned aspects of performance, on to the New England Conservatory of Music in preparation for a solo career, and actually pursuing that career in Vienna, he describes the journey that led to the recognition that he wasn't cut out to be a performer. Practice is putting love into the music, he sees, and performance is sending that love to the listener. Including discussion of the history of the guitar and of the composers of music for it, he traces an odyssey that turns full circle 10 years later when he resumes playing for his own enjoyment. He bares his soul, relating his feelings during practice, audition, and performance, as well as his experiences with teachers, mentors, and other artists. Although Kurtz writes in stream-of-consciousness style, virtually everyone who is dedicated to getting the most out of music by playing it will appreciate his insights into the art of practice for the love of music. Hirsch, Alan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307278751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307278753
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #385,774 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A book about failure isn’t an obvious candidate for enjoyable reading. Factor in the potential for sour grapes, coupled with the title “Practicing” and its whiff of hairshirt self-laceration, and you have a book that fairly screams that it’s a downer. But author Glenn Kurtz, a reformed musician, has conjured a minor miracle. His book is surprisingly readable, a quick and breezy look at one who tried hard and failed.

This breeziness, however, conceals a deeper feel that leavens the narrative. Though Kurtz wears his learning lightly, he casts a wide net, encompassing the likes of Pliny the Elder, Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Harpo Marx. No reference point seems too high or low in his musing on meaning, and this enriches his exploration.

Kurtz’s focus is determinedly self-centered—no other characters in the book are as fully developed as he. Rather than being a defect, this rings true. Even the most well-adjusted of aspiring artists are consumed with themselves. Artists must look within for the aesthetic capital to create and sustain a career. It’s an unavoidable part of their craft. Fortunately, Kurtz is varied and interesting enough to sustain his book’s narrow focus.

Is this a great book? Perhaps not, and it may be too parochial to appeal to a wider audience. But it’s a treat for guitarists. Familiar names like Sor, Giuliani, and Tárrega dot the narrative. Here we have one of our own writing about the many of us who fell short of a dream. Kurtz wisely avoids the bromide of a happy ending. Success may make a brighter story, but failure is more universal. It’s good to be reminded that our own rejected thoughts can return with a certain alienated majesty.
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Format: Hardcover
Superficially this book is an account of a young boy who takes his love for playing the guitar and nurtures it into the entry to a professional performing career, only to find that his unrealistic dreams of true artistry are beyond him; realizing this, he abandons his art.

On another level, it's about practice as life, independent of the specific activity.

If you're a folk or rock guitar player who grew up in the 60's or early 70's you'll probably resonate with Kurtz's recollections of the genre's famous names and hit songs.

If you are a classical musician, you'll identify with his descriptions of how the music you create has the potential to be so much more than the notes, and how who you are at the moment you perform is deeply expressed in the music. He also describes the promethean challenge of earning a living as an performing artist.

If you are a classical guitarist you'll recognize the challenges that guitarists face in a world overwhelmingly dominated by the piano and violin.

If you ever went to an arts conservatory you'll recognize the way of life and the personalities he describes in Boston and Vienna.

And if you wanted to learn how the classical guitar repertoire came to be, Kurtz does a fine job of describing the personalities and times of both the important composers (e.g., Bach, Tarraga, Sor) and performers (e.g., Segovia).

Lastly, his description of his return to the guitar after abandoning it for ten years due to the emotional pain he associated with the instrument, is wonderful for its offering us a description of how the possibility of growth and change is available in our relationships to others, ourselves and the things we love.

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Format: Hardcover
Glenn Kurtz' meditation on music, an extended history of the origins of the guitar with biographies of the great composers who wrote for the instrument and even the history of the development of the ancient and modern forms of the stringed guitar, makes for some of the most rewarding reading on a topic of surprising ingenuity.

The 'story' outline of the book is brief: Kurtz recounts his childhood fascination with the guitar, his extended sessions of study and practice as he prepared his career by attending the New England Conservatory of Music, eventually gaining performance time in this country and in Europe, and his decision that his talent was not of the class that merited a successful career in music that brought him to the point of giving up the guitar, to the final reason for writing this book - practicing is not a chore but a means to finding the soul of music and the soul of self in the process.

But such a short 'plot summary' in many ways defeats the purpose of this immensely satisfying book, a book that will not only be deeply admired by musicians of every rank, but a book that is so poetic and elegant in style of writing that it will entertain those whose lives have been touched only tangentially by music. 'Like every practicing musician, I know both the joy and the hard labor of practice. To hear these sounds emerging from my instrument! And to hear them more clearly, more beautifully in my head than my fingers can ever seem to grasp. Together this pleasure in music and the discipline of practice engage in an endless tussle, a kind of romance.'

From his stance as a 'returning musician' Glenn Kurtz has the retrospective edge on restating all the beauties that surround the subject of music and music making. His diversionary paths into many related subjects as listed above make this a book that is not only tender and entertaining, but also a book full of rich information for every reader. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, February 08
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