Literary High Notes

Book trends are on the move (thank goodness). Dog tales and Jane Austen spin-offs are departing the shelves to make room for a new craze: the stories of music teachers and students.
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The Music Teacher, by Barbara Hall (Algonquin)

What it’s about: Washed up 40-year-old musician Pearl Swain, who plays out her ambitions through her students, especially Hallie, a gifted violinist with perfect pitch — and a devastating secret that could ruin both of their careers.

Classroom: McCoy’s music shop, where Pearl and her quirky cohorts debate Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen, and the virtues of open mic night.

Reason to read: Hall’s spare prose is a fitting accompaniment for the life of a lonely musician, but when Pearl muses about her craft, the words sing.

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The Music Room, by Namita Devidayal (St. Martin’s Press)

What it’s about: The author’s discovery of her sparkling voice at age 10 and her training as an Indian classical singer. Although Devidayal, a journalist with The Times of India, calls this book a memoir, it’s really a biography of her guru.

Classroom: The floor of her guru’s tiny apartment, a sparsely decorated space save for a gleaming altar to the gods complete with idols of baby Krishna and Ganesh.

Reason to read: This is a passionate, lyrical tribute to India’s mystical, melodic history, an inviting tapestry of ragas, goddesses, and Hindu tradition.

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The Rose Variations, by Marisha Chamberlain (Soho Press)

What it’s about: Rose MacGregor, a composer and music professor beginning her career at the height of the women’s movement. Rose struggles to reconcile her ambition and her personal life, falling into trysts with colleagues and students.

Classroom: The Goat Pasture, a lesbian commune owned by reclusive bearded cellist Lila Goldensohn. Here, Rose writes the music that will jump-start her career.

Reason to read: Rose is fiercely independent and unapologetically flawed. Chamberlain, a noted poet and playwright, has written an engaging first novel.

Originally published in MORE magazine, February 2009.

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