Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Review: The Music Teacher by Barbara Hall

I used to play the clarinet. I started in 7th grade, years after most kids started, so I spent my 4 years in band playing third clarinet, the easy parts. My mother and her mother before her also played the clarinet in high school, and wanting to encourage me, my grandmother bought me a wood clarinet which I was forced to drag out around during the holidays to butcher carols. Perhaps mercifully, my brother pawned my instrument while I was in college for drug money. I do sometimes miss it though, and while I was never the most musically gifted myself, I certainly appreciate those who are.

In The Music Teacher, Pearl has given up on ever being a truly great musician herself. She started the violin too late and her parents could never afford proper lessons. But she can recognize talent, and when she gets a new student at the music store she works at who shows amazing promise, she can’t help investing in her future. One terrible mistake with Hallie forces her to reevaluate and come to terms with what her life has become.

Pearl charmed me from the first page with her honest, down-to-earth realism and her self-depreciating humor. Her voice is a strong thread that pulls the reader through this very philosophical justification of a musician’s life.

Author Barbara Hall, an award winning writer of quite a few hit television series, knows how to pace her writing to keep it flowing well. The mystery concerning the mistake she made with Hallie is a successful narrative device that kept me extremely engaged in Pearl’s story and the deep introspection that allows her to realize some core truths about herself.

Through Pearl and her coworkers at the music store, Hall ruminates on music and how music relates to life and relationships. You can open this novel to almost any page and find a quotable passage. Don’t believe me? Wait a second. I’ll open to a page at random… Ok… page 84 (ARC version, so this may be different in the final print):

Music is like communion or something. You don’t do it because you’re perfect. You do it because you glimpse perfection. You realize it can take you a step closer. You move toward it because you are hoping it can make you better.

Here’s another passage that I found remarkable where Pearl thinks about how isolated she is from society and what the reason for that is:

I’ve always been isolated. It was a condition I was born with. Some children get to arrive on earth with one simple assurance: You were invited, and you are welcome. Those of us who imposed our existence on a couple of angry and resistant participants spend most of our lives feeling sorry that we came. (p. 210, ARC)

I’ve seen reviewers say this has too much talk and not enough action – and the talk does outweigh the action by far – but this novel just worked for me. I enjoyed reading it immensely.

The Music Teacher is available in hardcover now.

16 comments:

Molly said...

Thanks so much for a great, honest review. I actually don't mind a book that is more talk than action --- especially if the talk is as beautiful as the lines you quoted!

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Great review - I especially like your personal introduction. It' interesting to see what in our personal history might influence the way we connect (or not) with a book.

bermudaonion said...

I'm so glad you liked this one because it's in my TBR pile.

Beth Kephart said...

Sounds like my kind of book...

H said...

It must be refreshing to have the MC not being the one who is working to become a prodigy in this type of book, but encouraging someone else.
Also, I 'learned' piano and flute for years when I was little. I'm not the most musical of people either so I didn't really have enough motivation.

Ladytink_534 said...

I've always wanted to learn how to play an instrument but never did. My husband plays the guitar rather well though. This doesn't really sound like the book for me but I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Marie said...

So want to read this one! I keep seeing it around. Great review!

Elizabeth said...

This sounds great! It's exactly the kind of book I'm in the mood for these days.

Genevieve said...

Nice review. I liked your intro about you, I also played the clarinet but I started when I was 9.

robin_titan said...

Whoa this book sounds amazing! I'm definitely reading it.

Staci said...

I really enjoyed your review. I played the flute from 6th grade +. I loved it..wish I would've kept playing it. This books sounds pretty good!

Laina said...

I played the recorder. I can play three notes on one now, A, B, and G. I'm so proud.

Christina Farley said...

Sounds lovely. That is really neat that you're family is so into music.

Red lady-Bonnie said...

I read this book after getting it as an Early Reviewer book from LibraryThing. I was one that wasn't that fond of it. I would imagine that having a musical background may enhance the reading experience. I personally do not so I may not have appreciated or related to certain aspects of the book. I like to read different perspectives which often gives me even more to think about.

S. Krishna said...

Great review. I just added this one to my TBR list.

lee said...

Might be tempted to buy this book.