Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Music Teacher

Typically I say it's easier to write about a book I hate than a book I like. I am now revoking that statement.

Yesterday I started reading "The Music Teacher" by Barbara Hall. I'm about halfway through it now, and I am in love with this book. It's like my literary soul mate. But it's going by too fast. It's one of those books that I just don't want to end.

The novel is about a shoulda, coulda, woulda musician, Pearl Swain, a violinist. She's been reduced to a music teacher, out of necessity, mostly. Which happens to so many musicians and which makes a bad music teacher, to be honest. Not a bad private teacher necessarily, but a bad music teacher in the school system, definitely. Students can tell when their teacher is a frustrated musician who had bigger ambitions than to be the high school band teacher, or the private violin teacher. And that, my friends, is why I do not want to be a teacher. In my eyes, to be a teacher is to give up on my own ambitions. And I'm not nearly ready to do that. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that, down the road, I am probably destined to become a teacher. I have yet to decide if that's good or bad. But that's besides the point.

Pearl is a fantastic woman. She's really one of the boys at McCoy's music shop in LA. She is rough around the edges and unapologetic. She's sarcastic, on the verge of bitter, with a wonderfully dry, almost sadistic, honest sense of humor, that those who have been there (or somewhere close) can understand, and even commiserate. 

Some gems so far:
"'Music is the closest you will ever get to God. Some people need to have God explained to them through scripture and ritual. Others just go right to the source.'
That's why I cut down on drinking,"
But that is just exactly how I feel about music! It sounds so cheezy and inadequate and it's embarassing to say, because you know people who don't know can't possibly hope to know that feeling, but that's how it feels. And then, when you're not the critically-acclaimed musician you've dreamed and hoped to be, you apologize for and down play that sentiment. You write it off by explaining, I only say things like that when I've had too much to drink.

"A musician is used to that -- caring to an outrageous degree about something everyone else ignores."
It's so true. I can easily lose myself in thought or conversation about music, or literature, and quickly find that no one is listening or gives a shit anymore. They've stopped trying to even feign interest. Hilarious to see in print.

"The way I see it, the world is divided into two parts. People who do stuff, and people who mock the people who do stuff. I'd rather be a doer."
Sadly, I think I'm more the mocker type. That's probably why I want to be a critic. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't find success in what they have a passion for, criticize.

"'People like sitars,' Patrick tells me.
'But they're like guns,' I say. 'Nobody should get near one unless they know how to use it.'"
I adore this humor.

The brief exchange between Pearl and Franklin about women and men in LA being nothing more than girls and "girls in disguise," is wonderfully funny.

The descriptions of Pearl's passion for music are dead-on. Hall captures the inescapable passion and "moral obligations" of having talent and having a dream.

Barbara Hall's writing is nothing short of brilliant. She understands, beautifully, the "tragic infatuation" that is music for the musician. I simply cannot get enough of this book.

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