Tag Archives: music

The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander Title: The Weight of a Piano
Author: Chris Cander
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525654674
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

The book caught my eye when I read some people comparing it to Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I think the similarity ends with music being the focal theme of both books. The Weight of a Piano is a very different book, that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is a book about how a piano made in Romania, intersects lives – one that of a woman in Russia with that of a woman in the United States of America.

The Weight of a Piano is about relationships in the modern world, and also in the world gone by. The core though remains the same: what will you do if your one passion is taken away from you? What lengths will you go to perhaps even destroy yourself in the pursuit of the passion? How does then life be lived, with all its complexities and hurdles thrown in the way, every single day?

One story starts in 1962, when eight-year-old Katya is bequeathed a Blüthner piano, that will become the love of her life. She gets married in about eight years or so and moves to America with her family, only to lose the piano in the process.

It is 2012. Bakersfield, California, twenty-six-year old Clara Lundy not only loses a boyfriend, but also has to move to another apartment. With her she just must take the Blüthner, which she has never learned to play. It came down to her by parents who died in a fire accident. She was raised by her aunt and uncle. Her uncle had a car-repair shop and she is trained to become a mechanic.

While the piano is being moved to her new apartment, her hand gets broken – emotions run wild and she decides to sell the piano. Who is the buyer? What happens thereafter is the what makes the rest of the story of The Weight of a Piano.

This is a mystery somewhat, but mostly predictable. However, don’t go by that. The real meat of the story lies in the writing. Many metaphors and parallels run through the story, only enriching it. Of course, the title is also a metaphor for the weight of the characters’ lives and how sometime or the other, the burden needs to be dropped. What I loved the most were the musical references. Piano music is superb and to listen to those pieces while reading the book is another matter of joy.

Cander’s characters could be related to because they are rooted in reality. It is an unusual story in the sense of the piano, that is almost the central character. At the same time, I also thought it was a little too long and could’ve done with some editing. Having said that, the descriptions of both Russia and the American barren landscape are spot-on. The book also had me Googling for these places, just so I could understand the places I am reading about.

The Weight of a Piano is rich in description, and speaks of the true love between the artist and passion, and how people are connected one way or the other – sometimes through the music and sometimes just by what has happened in their lives, and very rarely both.

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The Music Room by Namita Devidayal

The Music Room Title: The Music Room
Author: Namita Devidayal
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-8184000542
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoirs, Music, Indian Writing
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

I first read this book when it released in 2007. It has been more than a decade, and I decided to reread it. It has been a while since I cried while reading a book and this one managed to make me weep, yet again. The story of a mentor and a student, and above all music that binds them is beyond beautiful. It is so sublime that there were times I had to just keep the book aside, to only soak in what I had read. Namita Devidayal’s writing skills are beyond ordinary. She tells us the story of her music teacher, Dhondutai and does it with great empathy, feeling, love, and honesty.

The Music Room is also about Hindustani Classical Music – it is so wide that perhaps only a bit can be covered in one book, but Devidayal does try to bring to fore what she learned, what her teacher learned, and in turn manages to enthral readers with every turn of the page. Namita started learning music from her teacher Dhondutai from the Jaipur gharana at the age of ten, at the insistence of her mother.  And thus, begins a journey of not only learning music, but perhaps also learning how to be a better person.

The book traverses the journey of Namita’s musical education and moves back and forth in time – tracing how Dhondutai got her musical education, how she became a part of the Jaipur Gharana (at a time when women were not taught music at all or the ones who did learn music were looked down upon or thought to be nothing but courtesans), how she was trained under the tutelage of greats such as Alladiya Khan, and the tempestuous Kesarbai Kerkar.

The Music Room is a homage to a time gone by. I don’t remember or cannot think of anyone undergoing music lessons as of today and that too in Hindustani classical. But that’s not the point I am trying to make. The Music Room is a book that has so many layers to it – women empowerment, women who do what they must because they are passionate about something, men who do not bind, what music means – what it meant to rulers in an India gone by, and of course at the heart of it there is always music. It is because of this book that I became aware of ragas, of taans, of what raag is sung when, and it all happened organically – in the sense the book isn’t preachy. Thank God for YouTube so I could listen to the greats as I read about them.

This is a book full of anecdotes, of life, of how we find ourselves in places where we least expect to be, and how life comes full-circle more often than not. It is a beautiful profile of Dhondutai, but my favourite portions were ones on Kesarbai. Devidayal writes about her mischievously, with a lot of love, and reverence as well. But when she speaks of her teacher – there is a whole lot of heart and you can sense the bond without it becoming too sentimental. Read it. Please read it. You must. Just must.

 

 

 

I Am Young by M. Dean

i am young 3Title: I Am Young
Author: M. Dean
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 978-1683961390
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novels
Pages: 108
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Graphic novels that are intertwined with music are a big bonus. I Am Young by M. Dean is about two teenagers who meet and fall in love after a Beatles concert in 1964. It is so much more and the Beatles are everywhere in this character-driven book of stories, interspersed with music all along by the very talented M. Dean.

i am young 1I Am Young is the kind of book that you must take to bed on a day when nothing has gone right and it all seems futile. It is the kind of book that will cheer you and will also make you sad as their relationship soars, doesn’t, falls, sustains, and then is on the rocks as the decade ends. What remains though is the shared love of the one night in 1964, when they saw Beatles perform.

i am young 2

I Am Young is what dreams are made of. M. Dean’s art is stunning (for lack of a better word really). It is the graphic novel that eases you in to the story of teenagers, of their love, against the backdrop of several years, with one of course being the most important to them. You just get taken into the story of Miriam and George and nothing else will then matter, but how their lives progress over the next hundred-odd pages or so. The impact of culture is a strong basis of this book, with how relationships function and grow over time.

M. Dean’s storytelling capability is extremely sensitive and shows brilliantly in her art and plot. And mind you it isn’t easy drawing about music with a whole lot of charm – it comes across so trippy (had to use it, forgive me) throughout the book. The 60s and 70s had their own thrill and M. Dean does a brilliant job of pulling the reader into that world.

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe

Reckless Daughter Title: Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
Author: David Yaffe
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-0374248130
Genre: NonFiction, Biography
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating:

It was the forty-fifth episode of Ally McBeal. Ally is questioning true love and in the background a cover of “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell starts playing. Sung by Vonda Shepard I think. This was the first time I heard the song and fell in love with the words. I was too young but I was growing-up gay (only known to me then) and somehow this song meant something. Something so much more. A year or two passed and then I realized that the original singer was Joni Mitchell. I fell in love with her, with her voice and with the way she is. The next time I heard a song of hers was “The Circle Game” and this time again it was through pop-culture, a movie called, “Married to It”. I have never looked back on not being her fan since then.

The reason I say this is anything to do with Joni Mitchell and I am putty. I am a softball, a mush-man who can cry at the drop of a hat. And only because she is a genius (at least to me she is). So, when a biography of hers released last year, I just knew I had to read it and when I did, I was astounded. Yaffe’s style is not only readable but also straightforward and he presents anecdotes with such ease and comfort, that you are almost transported to living Mitchell’s life with her.

He covers both her personal and professional life in equal measure, never favouring one over the other. This was the first time I was reading a book by him, but I am glad I did as this will not be the last. There is no excessive psychoanalysis of her life. There are facts and then there are her songs and music. To me her lyrics are of utmost beauty and Yaffe covers almost each song with ease and in detail (which is most needed). Yaffe also touches on her relationships and this connects very well with the person she is and how solitude was best suited for someone like her.

“Reckless Daughter” is a brilliant portrait of a legend when it comes to music and songs and singing. This book is almost a dedication to music and its forms, and no one better to represent it than Mitchell, in my opinion. Even if you haven’t heard her or know anything of her, I would recommend you go and read this book. It will make you listen to her and that will change your life.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker

The Fifth Beatle Title: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition
Author: Vivek J. Tiwary
Illustrated by: Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker
Publisher:M Press; Expanded edition
ISBN: 978-1616558352
Genre: Graphic Novel, Graphic Memoirs
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Not much is known about people behind the scenes in any profession. It is always people who hog the limelight, get spoken of or written about. Which is how the world works. The ones who are in the shadows rarely get any credit. Not to say that it happens to all. Maybe to some. Maybe not to some. And we all know of The Beatles – almost about all four of them, even some additions, but very few know of Brian Epstein, on which this graphic novel is based.

Brian Epstein was The Beatles’ manager. Actually, I think he was more than just their manager. He was their friend, philosopher and guide in the true sense of the phrase. “The Fifth Beatle” (as he was known after his death by Paul McCartney many years later) is the story of Brian. Not just because he discovered The Beatles and gave the world the joy of listening to them but also because people need to know the man behind this band and what he stood for to believe in four unknown musicians and make them the darlings of the pop music scene in a very short time.

Vivek J. Tiwary’s research is meticulous and the writing is spot-on. From speaking of Brian’s personal life (being gay and Jewish wasn’t easy on the man) to his professional life (despite having a soft corner for George, he never let that come in the way of furthering the career of The Beatles), Tiwary covers everything with just the right amount of content. It doesn’t feel too much, nor does it feel too little. Plus, the illustrations of Andre C. Robinson and Kyle Baker are so spectacular that you just go back and fix your gaze on so many panels.

Brian Epstein’s life comes to life in the true sense of the word through this graphic memoir and it doesn’t take a lot to read this one. If anything, I reread it because you can never get enough of a good graphic memoir and more so given I didn’t know anything about him or had heard of him at all before buying this one on a whim.