This book is the autobiography of Philip Glass, a world-renowned composer of art music. I have not really appreciated his minimalist style of music, bThis book is the autobiography of Philip Glass, a world-renowned composer of art music. I have not really appreciated his minimalist style of music, but I truly enjoyed his story. This is a guy who really paid his dues, over and over again, before becoming world-famous. He grew up in Baltimore, and was strongly influenced by the modern music he listened to, in his father's record store. He went to Peabody Institute, University of Chicago, Julliard School of Music, and finally, with a Fullbright Scholarship, studied under the tutelage of the famous Nadia Boulanger, in Paris.
While he composed his music and produced performances and operas, he worked as a furniture mover, a plumber, and a taxi cab driver in New York City. With his wife, he toured through Pakistan and India, learning about Indian music with Ravi Shankar, and Eastern culture.
Glass tells his story with humor and excitement. I loved the episode where his mother, Ida Glass, worried so much about his financial future as a composer. When she attended one of her son's concerts for the first time, there were only six people in the audience. The next time she attended her son's concert, there were four thousand people in the audience!
Philip Glass composed a lot of music, and some of it is very experimental. He wrote many operas, symphonies, a lot of chamber music, and scores for films. He produced some of his earliest operas on a shoestring budget, but were sold out. His opera Einstein on the Beach lasts four and a half hours!
As a composer myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of enthusiasm and love for music that he conveys throughout the book. I recommend this book to anyone who might be interested in a biography of a very interesting person....more
This is a unique, almost Kafkaesque novel about Peter Els, a retired musician/amateur chemist who is suspected by the Department of Homeland SecurityThis is a unique, almost Kafkaesque novel about Peter Els, a retired musician/amateur chemist who is suspected by the Department of Homeland Security of being a terrorist. The book skips back and forth between the present day, and a step-by-step retelling of his life. Els is an avant-garde composer with a vivid bent toward creating experimental music.
The language of music permeates the entire novel. In fact, perhaps half of the novel is a detailed description of musical compositions, some composed by Els but mostly by others. As a composer myself, I found the book to be extraordinary. You will never find a more detailed description of music compositions in a fiction novel. A non-musician might have a bit of difficulty with some of the concepts, and might become bored with the descriptions. The plot moves slowly--you can't read this novel for the plot--it's about the musical imagery and metaphors.
Els' problem is that he loves music more than people. He leaves all the people he loves, including his wife, daughter, and his best friend. In retirement, he designs a bizarre experiment that might immortalize his music, making it permanent for the ages.
I didn't read this book--I listened to it as an audiobook, narrated by Christopher Hurt. The narration is excellent, with just enough intonation to help the listener understand who is talking. ...more
I enjoyed this book immensely--with the exception of one chapter, to be described below. The book reviews the recent research into how music affects uI enjoyed this book immensely--with the exception of one chapter, to be described below. The book reviews the recent research into how music affects us, at the neurological, behavioral, and medical levels. There are fascinating descriptions of the outcomes of fMRI and PET scans of the brains of people listening to music. Emotional centers in the brain are activated while listening to music--not really a surprise. What is surprising, is that those same emotional centers are activated most during the pauses, or silences that occur within a piece of music. Emotional centers are activated even more strongly while listening to bird song! And even more surprising: While musicians are playing music, the emotional areas in their brains--are not activated at all! Perhaps musicians are concentrating on their technique, and trying not to "emote" to the music they are producing.
Numerous examples of health benefits from music are given in the book. Victims of stroke may not be able to speak--but sometimes they can sing! Autistic children may have a hard time looking at people in the eyes when speaking. But, expose them to music, and they start looking at people in the eyes for up to a week after the exposure!
The so-called "Mozart effect" where people's IQ is increased after listening to music--is a myth. There is no scientific basis for this idea. But singing along with other people has a real, measurable effect on one's consciousness and brain state.
The only chapter of the book that I disliked was The Music of the Spheres. Now, I enjoy reading about astronomy and cosmology, but it is more than a bit of a stretch to think that compressional waves in the primordial universe--that manifest themselves in the cosmic background radiation field--have something to do with music. Waves are ubiquitous in nature, but when they require transposition by 50 octaves in order to be audible, it just does not bear much insight into how music affects life on earth....more
This is a truly perceptive book, about the linkages between art/language/music/cooking/writing and the science of the brain. Each chapter focuses on aThis is a truly perceptive book, about the linkages between art/language/music/cooking/writing and the science of the brain. Each chapter focuses on a different artist, and the insights of his/her artistry into the workings of the brain. I especially appreciated the chapter about Escoffier, the French chef who invented the concept of a restaurant menu. He discovered and put to use the taste of umami, a distinct reaction of taste buds to glutamate. He had a deep understanding about the effects of the smell and appearance of foods on people's appetites. His ideas preceded their acceptance by scientists by many years. The chapter on Igor Stravinsky was also fascinating. He realized that the sense of dissonance in music is temporary. Over time, exposure to dissonance makes the dissonant sound become acceptable, and even beautiful. Therefore, he composed The Rite of Spring to be utterly shocking to the tastes of the contemporary public. He wanted to ensure that the shock value would last for some time, before his music had a chance to become "beautiful"....more