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Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  193 ratings  ·  42 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
A San Francisco Chronicle Notable Bay Area Book of the Year

A book unlike anything ever written by a composer--part memoir, part description and explication of the creative process--Hallelujah Junction is an absorbing journey across the musical landscape of America and through the life and times of John Adams, one of today's most
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Paperback, 368 pages
Published November 24th 2009 by Picador (first published March 1st 2002)
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Brett
It is common practice to compare a composer's prose with his music. Milton Babbitt essays are just as thorny as his music. Subordinate clauses intermingle together until the true meaning of his sentences are lost. Morton Feldman composed music of amazing quiet and solitude, yet he was notoriously loud and extroverted in person. And somehow his writings allows these two personalities to coexist, so that his absurd and clever humor somehow touches you deeply. John Cage's writings are almost more i ...more
Nick
When I read someone's memoir, what I am most interested in learning is what kind of person the writer might be. A select few describe their failures along with their achievements, and John Adams is one of that small group. (Pitcher David Wells, of all people, is another!) If I had never listened to any of his compositions (only what I can find recorded, unfortunately), I might miss some of his work after reading his comments on his work. Adams also illuminates the work of composition, at least a ...more
George
This is as good an autobiography as you'll get from a composer. It would be a great read even for someone uninterested in his music -- except of course for some chapters which are music specific.

Adams's writing is evocative, funny, self-deprecating, and illuminating. I felt like I was living his life -- or as if he were writing the story of MY life. To use Bob Dylan's words, "like it was written in my soul."

The great thing about Hallelujah Junction is that Adams is open and honest in his assess
...more
Mimi
I completely enjoyed this autobiography describing the process of composing music by one of my favorite contemporary composers. Sometimes it is very dense writing and I found myself reading some sections over and over. He goes into detail about his own compositions as well as most other contemporary composers and their predecessors.
Rob Hermanowski
John Adams is a leading (in my opinion the best) American composer of modern classical music. I have had the pleasure of meeting him and hearing him speak on the curent state of modern music. This is his autobiography, which I found very well-written and fascinating.
Jules
John Adams is a rock star. The first time I heard his music was the last day of an opera class at UW-Mad. taught by an uninspired professor--the prof "generously" tossed in some modern and contemporary composers as an afterthought. When I heard a snippet of Nixon in China I was completely blown away. It was a seriously a religious experience. I had never heard anything like it and never knew opera could sounds this way--so moving, so fresh, so Different. I never forgot John Adams and soon checke ...more
Qi
Stephen Jay Gould, the challenging thinker about evolutionary science, reminds us that our culture has two canonical modes for trending. One is "advances to something better as reasons for celebration", the other is "declines to abyss as sources of lamentation (and hankering after a mysthical golden age of 'good old days')." Classic music, defined in my mind as those classic cannons such as Mozart and Beethoven, perhaps Brahms and Siberlius as well, were never to be superceded (so I thought), be ...more
Jeff
John Adams really became a composer after moving to San Francisco in the mid-70s, the same time I was living there. I've been following his work every since, and it's been gratifying to see him gain the success and visibility his work deserves. This autobiography provides a lot of fresh insight into Adams' compositional process and into the kind of human being he is. It's fun to realize that the inspiration for one of his works, which programs notes originally claimed came from a "dream," in fac ...more
Philippe
John Adams, America’s best known living composer, is far from universally loved. His work is variedly labeled as dreary Minimalism, facile postmodernism, reactionary neoromanticism, politically correct eclecticism, and more. Personally I have been listening to his work for many years, with deepening admiration. For whatever it is worth I believe that compositions such as Harmonielehre, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Nino and The Dharma at Big Sur will eventually be accepted as a solid part of the ...more
Arjen
John Adams writes as well as he composes. In his autobiography ‘Hallelujah Junction’ Adams recounts how he found his voice as a composer and illuminates his composition process, his cooperation with librettists and choreographers, and demonstrates the understanding gained by research for his wildly varying opera topics that range from Nixon’s state visit to China, a Palestinian - Israeli hostage drama, to the detonation of the first atomic bomb in the Mohave desert. Adams breaks with system musi ...more
Bruce
Jan 26, 2009 Bruce rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: music biography fans, music lovers, former hippies
Hallelujah Junction is John Adams’ autobiography, and as autobiographies go, it’s a fairly good one. Adams uses a pleasant, bemused tone to describe the signposts that mark his development as an artist and his principle influences as he rejects serialism (no small rejection in the late ‘60s/early 70’s), explores and rejects the John Cage-influenced aleatoric ‘music’ (e.g., random sounds or sounds randomly generated that are labeled as music when given a definitive start and end point), and ultim ...more
Matt
The release of this memoir was well timed with my discovery of Adams' music - though I'd been aware of a few of his pieces previously, it was when a friend introduced me to "Grand Pianola Music" last spring that I totally fell in love with his work. Adams' work contains many of the formal innovations of the minimalists, electronic music pioneers, and other experimental composers - yet, unlike of his contemporaries, he doesn't shy away from direct emotional appeal within his music.

So, given my ne
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Bruce Scott
Entertaining and very well written autobiography. I wouldn't have been interested had I not recently heard a performance of "The Chairman Dances" by the Louisville Orchestra, an astonishing piece of music especially when heard live. How did they do that? Anyway, the book is set mostly in San Francisco, where several of my relatives pursue music in their own ways, including electronic music and performance art, like Adams did before electronics became, well, portable. Great fun!
Mark
I guess anyone who writes a memoir/autobiography will speak highly of themselves, but as someone who was somewhat familiar with John Adams's music, it was a great read in understanding the things that motivate him as a composer, as well as the things which have shaped him as a person. He does get a little defensive at times, especially when talking about some of his more controversial works or works for which he received a lot of criticism, and sometimes takes it too far. Nonetheless, it was a r ...more
Carol
This is John Adams' autobiography, detailing his life, work, influences, and thoughts on music in general and his own works. I found this book really engaging and enjoyable to read. While Adams doesn't really dwell on the trials and tribulations of his personal life, he is refreshingly frank about his struggles to find his own compositional voice and about both his successes and his failures. He's got a lot of interesting things to say, and it was really refreshing to hear the perspective of a c ...more
Kathleen
This is a pretty solid, well-written memoir from John Adams. I would have given it 3.5 stars if I could, but 3 it is. The biggest detriment to the book is its lack of cohesion. Adams repeated a lot of information, stating something in a way that would imply this was the reader's first time encountering a particular tidbit, when really it had been introduced in a previous chapter. Within chapters, though, everything seemed to flow well. I enjoyed learning more about Adams's works with which I am ...more
Wilsontherocker
Hallelujah Junction is an engaging look into the life of a contemporary Classical composer. Adams is constantly insightful and open about the nature of his work. Throughout, he remains humble about his talent but never self-effacing. When necessary, he answers his critics and occasionally concedes to them.

The one thing I wish I'd gotten more insight into is the business side of being a composer. One never really gets a sense of how hard Adams was working to get recognized in his early career or
...more
David
America's most important active composer writes with erudition, grace, and self-deprecating humor. (I use an pencilled asterisk to mark the funny bits in the books I read: multiple marginal stars here.) He walks us through some of the major works, deepening our appreciation of familiar works, and enticing us to sample the unfamiliar. I hope that the book encourages more listeners to give a listen to Adams, be it the brief piano piece "China Gates" or the memorial choral work On the Transmigratio ...more
Joe
Not amazing writing but pretty good, and some interesting insights in Adams' own music, his thoughts on other composers, and his thoughts on being an artist.
Caitlin
Absolutely loved this book. While it's interesting as a composer-bio for fans, what's even more interesting is its value as a documentation of compositional process - not in a detailed sense, but the way he doesn't just say "I wrote this and it was performed" but analyses how the work came about, his experience of it in rehearsal and performance and his view of strengths and weakenesses with hindsight, is fantastic. Also useful is his descriptions of collaborations with other artists - librettis ...more
Tristan
This book is in search of an audience. At points it is covering the basics of music (the development of equal temperament) for someone familiar with his music as an audience member, at other times it is clearly aimed at future scholars, laying out the contexts in which he composed. Most grating is when Adams picks apart his negative reviews, in which he doesn't say anything I disagree with, but comes across with a tone that suggests that any criticisms of his music are wrong rather than just dif ...more
Jason
Fantastic! A must-read for aspiring artists.
Ron
As you would expect, there's plenty of backstory into the creation of Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, and other major works, including Adams' most recent opera, Doctor Atomic. For me, though, some of the most important passages were the ones in which Adams spoke of the struggle to carve out a space for himself in which he could find his own voice as a composer, and where he discussed that struggle in relationship to what was going on in classical music during the latter half of the 20t ...more
Tyler
Fascinating read. Adams can write quite well and it was very interesting to see how he grappled with the pressures of how one "should" compose (think Boulez, etc.) as opposed to how one feels he/she should compose. I have come to appreciate his music more through reading this book, though I have always been a fan. Anyone who is interested in contemporary classical music should read this book.
Chris
I won a signed copy of this book from a contest on John Adams' website and didn't really expect much from it. While I appreciate much of his music, I wasn't sure how interesting it would be to read the memoirs of a living modern composer. It turns out that he's had quite an interesting life indeed, at least through the parts I've read so far (up to the mid 70s).
Nell
Picked this up again as a reward for getting halfway through Grant. The earlier chapters cheerfully recount his experiments with clunky homemade synthesizers and chance music, and they are much more entertaining than the later chapters. The later episodes end up sounding a little self-important. (Then again, can one write a memoir without sounding self-important?)
Thomas Walsh
I've heard several of his operas and like what I experienced. I didn't know he wrote an autobio.His writng is just as insightful as his operas and musical pieces. He explained the background to "Nixon in China" as well as "Doctor Atomic." His circle of influences, to me, were suprising! Good book!
Alex V.
I liked this autobiography until he got to the point where he gained his confidence as a composer, and then it lost me. John Adams should have that confidence, he's one of the finest composers alive with the broadest range within a recognizable "sound" and he speaks to that in not uncertain terms.
Patrick
An interesting read, particularly for fans of Adams' work. While the "biographical" detail is fairly minimal, particularly with more recent years, Adams' discussions on his own compositions, the works of others, and trends in modern orchestral music are enlightening.
Jay Gabler
Adams, a crucial figure in the forging of a new path for composed music, brings his intelligence, taste, and generosity to bear on this readable book. If you think you might like it, you very probably will.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Distinguished American minimalist composer.
More about John Adams...
I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky Nixon in China: An Opera in Three Acts Doctor Atomic Shaker Loops (Revised): Full Score John's Book Of Alleged Dances: Study Score

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