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Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  305 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
In a remarkable memoir written with insight and humor, Glenn Kurtz takes us from his first lessons at the age of eight to his acceptance at the elite New England Conservatory of Music. After graduation, he attempts a solo career in Vienna but soon realizes that he has neither the ego nor the talent required to succeed and gives up the instrument, and his dream, entirely.

Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 5th 2008 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2007)
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George Berguño
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the late nineteen-eighties I was a performing guitarist on the London jazz circuit. Over a period of six years, I gave over 300 performances on my nylon-stringed Yoshima. During that time I had the privilege of playing with some extraordinarily talented musicians; but, above all, I found playing solo the most thrilling, most nerve-wracking experience. Then, all at once, I gave it all up to pursue a career in academia. My beautiful (but much-scratched) guitar lay dormant in its case for 22 yea ...more
Oct 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Music Lovers/Those who have given up on a dream
Shelves: humanity
I actually read this book in one fell swoop yesterday, but I am still processing and may reread. I highly recommend this book to people who were passionate about something (be it art, sports, science, etc.) in their teens or before and are presently uncertain how they feel about that old passion. The book is by the author who was quite a talented guitarist but after an uncertain period post conservatory quit playing for at least 10 years and then started playing again. His perspactive and goals ...more
Jun 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Glenn Kurtz was a child prodigy on the guitar, who dreamed of becoming the next Segovia. He found remarkable success in his youth, appearing on national television with Dizzy Gillespie, and gaining entrance to the New England Conservatory of Music. Upon graduation, he moved to Europe in pursuit of a career as a soloist. He easily found work as a musician for weddings and parties, but his goal of a having serious solo career soon began to evaporate. Jobs were scarce, and Kurtz was ultimate ...more
Samuel Gutterman
May 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author is an amateur classical guitarist living in San Francisco, working in a field unrelated to his pursuit of music (aside from publishing this book, I suppose). This reader is an amateur classical guitarist living in San Francisco, working in a field unrelated to his pursuit of music (as yet unpublished). So this was almost suspiciously up my alley.

Practicing, as a whole, is a bit scattered, and I had trouble seeing the larger arc of the book while I was reading it. While I enjoyed his
May 17, 2011 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
"It doesn't need to be captured, just released." (101)

"Aut Caesar aut nihil!" -Leopold to Wolfgang Mozart

vibrational coupling: one body exciting the other
Joe Feeney
Aug 07, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nope-i-tried
Warning: mild musing on what exactly an ass hat is.

This one went straight to my abandoned shelf. I really thought that this book would have been in my wheel house. Excellent musician from a young age loses his passion for music when he can't, and never will be the next Segovia / Julian Breme, struggles to find an identity for himself outside of music, and eventually returns to his once passion. It isn't quite the same, but neither is he.

I was hoping to find more of myself in here rather than a r
Ravenness Ravenous
Sep 01, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Classical Guitar Students
Practicing is the story of a prodigy gone prodigal. Practicing is the account of a child prodigy who dreamed of becoming the next Segovia but quit guitar only to return to the instrument years later. "Boo hoo, oh whoa is me, I'm not the next Segovia," was my impression while I read Practicing. Ironically, Kurtz should be happy he did not become the next Segovia; for while he is praised for bringing knowledge of the classical guitar to the masses, Segovia is the most mocked and ridiculed player p ...more
Jul 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a unique, insightful, and well written autobiography chronicling a talented guitarist's journey from prodigy to music academe and to life beyond. While especially meaningful for those who've played a musical instrument, the book is still pertinent for anyone who has perused a discipline where few advance to a career, whether it be fine-arts, music, acting, writing, etc. I had expected, based on the title, more about his return to music but the majority of of the book covers his time stud ...more
- Endnotes galore! It's carefully referenced and notated, including a suggested listening section (compiled from recording artists or pieces he talks about in the book).

- Transiently sublime, undercurrents of bleak.

I feel he's sometimes too depressive, and too dismissive of the way his younger self approached his dreams — nevertheless, he works with a great grief and I appreciate that he has chosen to tell his story and risk over-simplifying it, risk an audience misinterpreting it, risk owning
Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
To like this book, I think there are a few things to consider. I think you need to love music and also love to know about the artist's process. You also need to want to learn a bit about the history of music if you don't already know it. The author flips back and forth between process and history. At first I found it difficult to make the mental shift. It seemed like just when I was really getting into the process, he would go on for awhile about musical history. However, I got used to it, and o ...more
Dec 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: motivation
Striving for your art, becoming disillusioned with it, and then rediscovering it later with different meaning.

As a musician and programmer, this story resonated with me, but it also made me at risk of blowing a ton of money on more classical recordings.
Gursu Altunkaya
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book can help any musician, especially amateur musicians. It is the story of a musician's career up and downs, interspersed with the story of the guitar and the interpreters and composers who elevated it where it is in classical music today.
John Sullivan
Jun 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: yeah-f-k-this
It was somewhat interesting for the first quarter of the book or so, perhaps a third, but then it gets repetitive and boring, so much so that I couldn't finish it. I made several attempts to finish the book, but eventually it turned into pure obstinacy, rather than interest; time to abandon it. I'm not sure how many different ways there are to express frustration with the inability to exact with one's fingers what one's head and heart are imploring one to do, but Mr. Kurtz certainly makes a vali ...more
Dan Phillips
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
Though subtitled "A Musician's Return to Music," this book is more accurately a memoir of a guitarist's years at music school and slightly beyond. It's way more about the author's growing disillusionment with his instrument (classical guitar) the industry, and himself than it is about any "return." The "return" part might be captured in the framework, the short chapters where Kurtz describes the thoughts and feelings that flow through him during a single practice session in what I assume is pres ...more

Well, I more or less read all of the book. It's pretty standard fare, personal recollections and historical anecdotes and mini-lectures on the development of the guitar, but a few remarks...

The writing was good, straightforward with the occasional non-vomitous poetic sally. I wrote down "that mysterious apotheosis: a solo career", and later he compares a room strewn with music stands to a charred black forest. I checked for a nod to a ghostwriter, and it turns out Mr. Kurtz has a Ph.D. in compar
I'm a bit torn on this book (3.5 stars). I'd definitely recommend it for classical guitar students. There's material in there that would also be of interest of musicians of other instruments (i.e., the nature of performance, what happens to a musician who goes through a conservatory program but just isn't good enough for a solo career) that' very well presented, and I'm always interested in reading about the life paths of others.

As someone who spent 1-2 years on classical guitar, he does a great
Charisse Major
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a violinist and not a guitarist, but I enjoyed this book and I felt like I could relate to some of his struggles. I had ambitions of becoming a great performer as a child and a teenager, but in college I realized that that life, at least for me, was not practical or desirable. I'm still working to figure out where I fit in in the musical world. Most of the income I make comes from music-related endeavors, but I'm still trying to figure out how to practice and how to really enjoy making music ...more
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music-art, biography
I wish I had read this book when I was still studying music. My experience was very similar to Kurtz's and I've never read such an accurate description of what studying music at a collegiate level is like. The way he described the critical mentality everyone possessed and how you knew your peers were always judging you, always comparing...In many ways he proves that the way we train professional musicians is completely contradictory to the way music should be performed. Since I could relate on a ...more
Gilbert Glenn
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book was pretty good, although if you aren't at least a musician, I wouldn't recommend it very much because of the vocabulary. At first the writing style seemed a little too "cheesy" because of the way he explained everything with ornamentation using words, I think it could have been a little more straightforward but that's just me. Invocation and Dance was a very well written chapter. I as a guitar player saw the value in every word he used. It gives you the history and at the same time it ...more
Mar 16, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book for a musician, and probably even better for a guitarist

I returned to the cello after a twelve year hiatus, and Glenn Kurtz's book describes eloquently many of my sentiments surrounding quitting and picking up the cello again. His honest storytelling of his ambitions, naivete, heartbreak feels real, and this honesty makes me believe in the hopeful messages in this book. For that reason alone, I think this is a great book for any musician who was once defeated by their own dreams. As a
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is not a self-help guide to practicing, it is not a book that will help you understand how to practice, or what embodies the art of practicing; rather, it is a memoir of the journey into the world of guitar playing in the academic world. This is the book that every classical guitar major should read since it touches on every single emotion that I - as a classical guitar music major - have ever felt or experienced at some point or another. If there ever were a book to tug at the heart-s ...more
Jan 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first few sentences captivated me -- 'oooh, a book about practicing' I thought as I traded my simoleons to the bespectacled young man behind the counter at Rosewood Guitar.

It turns out Kurtz alternates chapters about practicing classical guitar in his San Francisco room with chapters about his life as a musician. His real topic is his disappointment and disillusionment with his goal of becoming a professional musician.

Kurtz includes lots of interesting history and lore about the classical gu
Andrea Paterson
A lot of this book was a 4 or 5 but I'm giving it a three overall because I sometimes got bogged down in the author's very detailed descriptions of a single pratice session that interlace with sections of memoir, history, and personal reflection. Despite those occasionally boring sections this was an astounding book with some truly amazing insights. I'm not a guitar player and haven't practiced music seriously in more than 15 years, but I found that Kurtz described processes of creativity that a ...more
Sep 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone over 35 who finds himself somewhere other than where he imagined he would be.
As a young man, the author initially pursued a career as a classical guitarist, with thoughts of becoming a star. He quit both his dream and playing guitar when he realized he wouldn't be a star but "merely" a working musician: giving lessons, playing weddings, and occasionally holding a concert. The reality of the "day job" undermined his ability to sustain his drive to practice, to perform -- to wrestle sublime music out of the guitar.

After more than 10 years without playing, and after losing
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music-reference
This is a great read for any classical guitarist who has strayed away from the instrument and then come back to it (like me). The deep reflections of the author on his relationship with the classical guitar brought back echoes of my own relationship to the instrument. Since we are roughly the same age and went through the conservatory system at about the same time, I felt like I was walking down the same hallways and reliving the experiences. Now that I am playing every day my original concert i ...more
Feb 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an autobiography of a man's journey with the guitar, and is very well written and poetic. For someone coming to terms with a passion laid aside in the past, and contemplating one's return to that passion, I couldn't recommend this book enough. One of the important take away points, is the importance of performance, as well as practice. Practice being only one half of the equation. Performance in other arts could be seen as the publishing or sharing of the work, so his ideas are applicabl ...more
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though sometimes it is convoluted and uses too much name-dropping to my taste, i ended up liking this book. It reminded me that I don't practice half as often as I would like to. The idea that practicing is like preparing for a performance by cheating time and polishing the piece one moment at a time is a fascinating thought. Taught me about who Berlioz, Julian Bream, John William, and Segovia are, as well as some history about guitar in the context of classical music. Now on to listening t ...more
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
My takeaway ~
"Making music -- doing anything we really love -- we are always at the limits of our ability ... even Yo-Yo Ma must sometimes wish he were better, wish he could capture a fleeting nuance that glimmers so clearly before him yet refuses to yield to his touch. Limitation is the condition of our lives. What matters -- what allows us to reach beyond ourselves , as we are, and push at the boundaries of our ability -- is that we continue. Everything depends on how we practice, what we pra
Nov 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
As a budding classical guitar player myself, I thoroughly enjoyed Glenn Kurtz's Practicing. He ably captures the ambition, dedication, and technical frustration that are characteristics of many young artists, and in contrasting that earlier portion of his life against his contemporary self, he discovers disappointments and rewards in roughly equal measure. The book also delves into the history of modern classical guitar and some of the vexing issues inherent to the art form, such as the lack of ...more
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
This started out interesting, and to a certain extent remained so, but ultimately I was left with a sense that the author is someone who, although a talented musician, is a hyper-perfectionist with unrealistic expectations, who has (or had) no real sense of the real world or how he fit into it. Perhaps many incredibly talented musicians, or athletes, etc. feel this way, but it grated on my nerves after a while. I'll give him credit for his attempted self-examination, but overall I can't reall re ...more
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Lauren - this might interest you 1 10 Oct 02, 2007 03:06PM  
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“Music lives only in performance; only then does what we hear become real. Performing reveals everything we are able to show, and yet for this reason, the first time through, we often perform badly. And we yearn so deeply to go back again and correct our mistakes. Few yearnings are as profound in us, because the truth is, we cannot go back. Yet the fiction of practicing makes it seem as if we can, and this is enough to change our lives. Practice lets us grow in our own time, protected from the demands, the vitality and mortality, of each moment. Within the practice-room walls it often seems as if time really does stand still, as if we could always remain protected, practicing and improving forever. This illusion holds transformative power—but also a dangerous seduction. Practice, by itself, is a dream of perfection. Only performing can turn practice into shared life, where our own time may join with others’, becoming musical. Yet practicing is the necessary lie that lets us pause to collect ourselves. It is the inner life of performance, the inward turn that allows us to develop, to grow, to move forward having learned.” 3 likes
“Interpreting literature was like performing a piece of music. It was a matter of lines and phrases, of hearing the resonance and learning where the stress falls. The note A has little significance by itself, just like the words love and yes. Yet placed just right, surrounded by other notes, other words, even a single tone can absorb all the forcefulness of our need, returning it to us as meaning.” 0 likes
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