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“The only proof he needed for the existence of God”

And now it’s time for another round of Music In Books Not About Music! In case you’re curious, previous entries have included Welcome to the Monkey House, All Creatures Great and Small, I Am Legend, Good Omens, A Fine and Private Place, and Have Space Suit – Will Travel.

I’ve mentioned my literary crush on Kurt Vonnegut, the whole “he’s dead” thing notwithstanding (so it goes). His writing style was unique and his outlook on life was cocked slightly at an angle to make things more interesting. And on top of that, he was a great supporter of the arts! Check out this passage from one of the last works he published in his lifetime, A Man Without a Country:

No matter how corrupt, greedy, or heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:


… It makes practically everyone fonder of life than they would be without it.

The book is somewhat politically charged, and veers toward the left, so be warned. If you’re cool with that and/or willing to ignore it, it’s a great, interesting read – one which, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you will not always agree with, and that’s always beautiful for sparking a thought or two.

Until next time I ferret out music where I don’t expect it! (Have any suggestions in that area? Pass them along.)


“The Mother Thing sang to me and I understood”

And now it’s time for another round of Music In Books Not About Music! In case you’re curious, previous entries have included Welcome to the Monkey House, All Creatures Great and Small, I Am Legend, Good Omens, and A Fine and Private Place. And now for an author near and dear to my heart…

If you ever want to see me REALLY ANGRY, all you have to do is mention the movie version of Starship Troopers. I love that book with such a fervor that I am constantly having to replace my copy, as I can’t shake the habit of forcing people to borrow it. Even knowing the return rate on books tends to be poor, I want to spread the love.

But that movie. UGH. THAT MOVIE. I refuse to dignify the director by looking up his name, but he clearly didn’t even read the thing. Never mind the deletion of the mobile suits – how could they take out the classes in History and Moral Philosophy?! It isn’t Starship Troopers without the classes in History and Moral Philosophy!!!! And Johnny Rico is Filipino and Dizzy Flores is a GUY who dies at the end of the first chapter and NONE of the aliens can fly OR suck out your brains and –


Thanks! I needed that. Now where were we? Right, Heinlein. I love Heinlein. I love Starship Troopers, I love The Door Into Summer, I am confused by I Will Fear No Evil but love it just the same. And I really love The Star Beast, ostensibly written for children but exhibiting some of the most sophisticated and clever examples of diplomacy I have ever read in a novel. So, having taken great pleasure in his children’s literature, I picked up another: Have Spacesuit – Will Travel.

And saw this:


The aliens speak in song!


Well, not ALL the aliens; there are several kinds in the book. But the main alien, the protagonist alien if you will, communicates entirely in song, although it is overlaid with something akin to telepathy that allows the listener to understand even if they don’t speak the song-language.


Heinlein stops adding bars of music every time the Mother Things speaks after a chapter or so – gotta save those trees – but every once and awhile it does pop up again, making my want to prop open the book against a piano and figure out what she’s saying, exactly. The whole thing is just begging to be turned into the world’s most avant-garde opera. C’mon, composers of the world, make it happen!

So yeah, that’s my beloved Robert Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit – Will Travel. Until next time I ferret out music where I don’t expect it! (Have any suggestions in that area? Pass them along.)

Dear composers: You’re going to Hell

And now it’s time for another edition of Classical Music Popping Up In Otherwise Unrelated Works of Fiction!

Have you ever read Good Omens? Well, you should. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett with their powers combined! To give you some context, the plot centers around the approach of the Apocalypse and the rise of the Antichrist (did I mention it’s hilarious?). Which is not to say no one’s trying to stop it – two people are, or rather, one angel named Aziraphale and one demon named Crowley are, working in tandem – really.

In this scene, Crowley is making arguments as to why, exactly, the Apocalypse would be a bad time for all of them. Among his points:

Listen,” said Crowley, “how many musicians do you think [Heaven has] got, eh? First grade, I mean.”

Aziraphale looked taken aback.

“Well, I should think – ” he began.

“Two,” said Crowley. “Elgar and Liszt. That’s all. [Hell’s] got the rest. Beethoven, Brahms, all the Bachs, Mozart, the lot. Can you imagine eternity with Elgar?”

Aziraphale shut his eyes. “All too easily,” he groaned.

Well, there you have it. Turns out all those unmusical people in the world are just trying to avoid eternal damnation. But I do rather wonder how Liszt got there and Bach didn’t, you know?

The story is really about the cello

You may have noticed the great pleasure I take in finding classical music references in books, especially when they’re not ostensibly about classical music. You probably haven’t noticed my undying devotion to author Peter S. Beagle (don’t feel bad; you didn’t notice because I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it before). He is most well-known for the masterpiece that is The Last Unicorn, but it is his first novel that is my favorite – A Fine and Private Place. It contains this passage:

He decided to tell them about the girl. If he could remember. He would have to speak carefully.

“Once I went somewhere with a girl, when I was a long time younger. It was in the evening. I don’t remember where we went, but I know that other people were there too. And somehow we were alone, this girl and I, in a very big room with a high roof and no chairs. We could hear the other people in the next room.”

You sound like an old man telling the only dirty story he knows. Put in the cello quickly, because the story is really about the cello and not about you.

“There was a cello leaning against the wall. It looked old, and one of the strings was missing. But we went over to it, and we touched it and picked out tunes on the three strings. Once in a while we would look at each other and smile, and once our hands touched when we were both playing the cello at the same time. We stayed there for a long while, telling each other jokes in an Irish brogue, and plucking the strings of the cello. Then some other people began to come into the room, and we went outside on a terrace….

“In the moment that the girl and I stood in the room, playing the cello and making jokes, we loved each other as much as we ever could have. When we went out into the garden it was not the same thing. And after a while we went away from each other, because both of us knew that it could never be as good again as it had been in the room with the cello. We had spent all our love in those few minutes, and what came after that was only remembering and trying to make it the way it was before.”

No doubt you now feel the urge to read this book immediately. Succumb and thank me later.

Also known as The Day of Madness

Okay, this video is a week late. I thought a clip from the 1995 version (which is to say the only version that counts) of Pride and Prejudice would be quite thematically appropriate for the week of Valentine’s Day, and then I promptly forgot it was the week of Valentine’s Day. Today is, of course, President’s Day, but the vibe isn’t quite the same.

Well, I suppose they can’t all be winners. Here’s a vaguely romantic video for no reason at all, in which Miss Elizabeth Bennet sings Mozart’s “Voi che sapete” and then explains the importance of faking it. Truly advice for all seasons.

Time for the BFG to expand his repertoire

Just in case he got bored with his classical strings, you know.

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Music Gifts: Books are in actual stores!

And because books are in actual stores, you can general find them locally, thus reducing wait time and making them great for last minuteness.

If you find yourself staring down a holiday deadline and needing a gift for a classical music neophyte or just somebody who wants to build out the contents of their iPod, why not consider The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection: 350 Essential Works?

Far from just a straight-up listing, each recommended piece is thoroughly considered and discussed, so that your recipient can make an informed purchasing decision. Amazon’s reviews give it a thumbs-up, and did I mention books are great for making deadlines?

Or if you’re not afraid of shipping costs, why not investigate the AB store? You’ll never see Beethoven happier than when he’s in a party hat.

There. That’s my collection of music gifts for 2011. Go forth and conquer!

Music Gifts: Why play brass when you can wear it?

Hey, remember how in The Trumpet of the Swan there’s the swan Louis who can’t make any noise, so his dad steals him a trumpet so that he can communicate? Well, here’s a dress covered in brass instruments, so that your favorite dress-wearer can properly communicate the fact that she likes a handful of brass and she’s not afraid to get down to brass tacks and she’s certainly not afraid of bad puns.

Okay, those two are only tangentially related. Mostly I wanted to know if you remember The Trumpet of the Swan. WAY better than Stuart Little. If you don’t like the dress, buy a copy instead.

But why wouldn’t you like a dress covered in brass instruments? It’s freakin’ adorable. It’s also just under $400 at Modcloth, but you know, whatevs.

Looking for something a little cheaper but just as punny? Why not consider this delightful Rimsky-Korsakow mug, one of a multitude of delightful music items in the AB store? Strike your music teacher off your shopping list today!

Part 1: The good music teacher

Here’s another one of my music-in-literature-that-isn’t-about-music discoveries, or should I say rediscovery because I’ve read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn like eight thousand times. If you haven’t read it, you are dismissed from the human race until this situation is rectified.

Done? Okay, good, you may come retake your place as a citizen. Now cast your mind back to the bit where Smith describes Mr. Morton, the music teacher who comes around to the public schools of Brooklyn in the 1910s once a week…

He drew notes on the blackboard; he drew little legs on them to make them look as though they were running out of the scale. He’s make a flat note look like humpty-dumpty. A sharp note would rate a thin beetlike nose zooming off of it. All the while he’d burst into singing just as spontaneously as a bird. Sometimes his happiness was so overflowing he couldn’t hold it and he’d cut a dance caper to spill some of it out.

He taught them good music without letting them know it was good. He set his own words to the great classics and gave them simple names like “Lullaby” and “Serenade” and “Street Song” and “Song for a Sunshine Day.” Their baby voices shrilled Handel’s “Largo” and they knew it merely by the title “Hymn.” Little boys whistled part of Dvorak’s New World Symphony as they played marbles. When asked the name of the song, they’d reply, “Oh, ‘Going Home.'” They played potsy, humming “The Soldier’s Chorus” from Faust which they called “Glory.”

And now I invite you to think about all the good music teachers you’ve had, both in a school and in private, of your instrument and of music as a whole. The ones that loved music so much they gave it to you like an infection. The ones that didn’t just make you try harder; they made you want to try harder.

Think about them and tell me about them now, because tomorrow I’m going to rant and rave about the bad ones. Oh yes.

After the apocalypse, only vampires will like Rachmaninoff

I just read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which was, as is almost always the case when you’re not talking about Neil Gaiman, way better than the movie. Without giving anything away, the bit with the dog made me cry. If you’re not familiar with the plot, the basic premise is that the entire human population has been taken down by some sort of plague that has more or less turned them into vampires; one man, Robert Neville, remains fully human.

It’s essentially well-written survival horror, which may or may not be your thing, but what I find interesting is that throughout Neville’s post-apocalyptic, fear-driven hermit existence, he plays classical music to help — to fill the silence, to drown out the vampires calling for his blood, a balm for his psychological wounds. He plays Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night, Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe.

And then one day he comes across another person, a woman named Ruth. Maybe she’s infected too, but she’s alive, so he takes her in and they talk and listen to Schubert’s fourth symphony.

The music ended. She got up and he watched her while she looked through his records…. “May I play this?” she asked, holding up an album.

He didn’t even look at it. “If you like,” he said.

She sat down as Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto began. Her taste isn’t remarkably advanced, he thought, looking at her without expression.

I have nothing to add to this except: bahahahaha.

What music would you take with you in the vampire apocalypse?