Is there any combination of words in the English language sweeter than “summer vacation”? That glorious expanse of three hot months spent sunbathing on beaches, napping in hammocks, and eating ice cream barefoot on hot asphalt.
Okay, enough fantasy. Realistically, most of us have probably been working to pay for that expensive conservatory tuition (it’s too damn high!) and/or slaving away in hot practice rooms at music festivals around the world. But one should always make time for summer reading breaks. Here are four books you should add to your list! Many, many thanks to my friends for their recommendations!
A Soprano on Her Head, by Eloise Ristad.
Elizabeth Y: “I read this book in my sophomore year of college, and it really balanced my perspective on music and performance anxiety. I was dealing with so many psychological issues at the time related to self-worth, performance anxiety, fear of failure, et cetera, and these manifested themselves as tension and fear in my technique–which caused more performance anxiety, which caused more tension, and behold, a beautiful vicious cycle was born! Ristad’s sensible, loving, honest approach to the internal roadblocks many of us face as musicians helped me to relax, to grab on to mental techniques to calm myself, and to realize that I wasn’t alone in my struggles.”
The Complete Collaborator, by Martin Katz.
Hyun Su S: “If you are a pianist looking for a book full of stimulating and witty yet also informative writing, then I highly recommend The Complete Collaborator! Martin Katz, an American pianist, is widely known for his work as a collaborative pianist and has performed with big stars such as Cecilia Bartoli and Marilyn Horne. With a special focus on vocal music, particularly German leiders, Katz magically transforms standard piano accompanying into a magnificent work of art.
Throughout the book, Katz provides excerpts from the classical repertoire to discuss basically every aspect of collaborative piano in great detail. Each topic, from breathing, to rubato, to interpreting orchestral reductions, is clearly articulated and is extremely helpful for both the inexperienced and the experienced. My particular favorite topics included his instructions on beginning a piece together, how to tune with instrumentalists, how different musical choices create different atmospheres, how to use silence effectively and when to use it…these are all details that can be easily overlooked, but are essential to artistic music making. When it comes to writing on collaboration, Katz covers all!”
Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel
Yet I could not prevent my concentration from flagging at the very moment when the shot ought to come. Waiting at the point of highest tension not only became so tiring that the tension relaxed, but so agonizing that I was constantly wrenched out of my self−immersion and had to direct my attention to discharging the shot.
“Stop thinking about the shot!” the Master called out.
“That way it is bound to fail.”
“I can’t help it,” I answered, “the tension gets too painful.”
“You only feel it because you haven’t really let go of yourself. It is all so simple. You can learn from an ordinary bamboo leaf what ought to happen. It bends lower and lower under the weight of snow. Suddenly the snow slips to the ground without the leaf having stirred. Stay like that at the point of highest tension until the shot falls from you. So, indeed, it is: when the tension is fulfilled, the shot must fall, it must fall from the archer like snow from a bamboo leaf, before he even thinks it.”
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
Brooks T: “‘Musicians are always so…pasty!’—An oh-so-true statement made by my undergrad piano professor that stuck with me through the years. While I’ve always been active to a certain extent, I spent most of the available time during my undergraduate career frantically seeking practice time and rooms, locking myself away in windowless chambers for hours—and like most students in music schools, I never felt like I practiced enough. It wasn’t until a little while later that I realized the importance of balance, specifically between time spent inside working and time spent outside doing something active, and the benefits of physical activity on the brain and the mental gymnastics required in music. Yes, folks, the studies are true—exercise helps us learn faster, memorize more, etcetera, etcetera, and more importantly, become better human beings.
“To draw from my own experience, running has helped me work on mental endurance (comes in handy when practicing or performing long programs), while rock climbing has taught me to deal with and manage fear under stress (i.e. clinging to a wall 80 feet off the ground). Now when I get nervous before a performance, I think, ‘well, if I mess up, at least I won’t die!’ In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami details his relationship with running and how essential it is to him as a writer. He doesn’t spew inspirational jargon and try to sell running to everyone, but talks about how it just happens to suit him and how it is beautifully and necessarily intertwined with his profession. The memoir is honest, humorous, and unassumingly philosophical, and as a result, it is entertaining, relatable, and profoundly inspiring. ‘You’re able to make a living as a novelist [or, a musician], working at home, setting your own hours, so you don’t have to commute on a packed train or sit through boring meetings. Don’t you realize how fortunate you are? (Believe me, I do.) Compared to that, running an hour around the neighborhood is nothing, right?’ (Murakami 46). There you go, no excuses, take a practice break and get outside!”