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Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons

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A beautifully written, witty memoir that is also an immersive exploration of classical music--its power, its meanings, and what it can teach us about ourselves--from the MacArthur Genius Grant-winning pianist "Jeremy Denk has written a love letter to the music, and especially to the music teachers, in his life."--Conrad Tao, pianist and composer In Every Good Boy Does Fi A beautifully written, witty memoir that is also an immersive exploration of classical music--its power, its meanings, and what it can teach us about ourselves--from the MacArthur Genius Grant-winning pianist "Jeremy Denk has written a love letter to the music, and especially to the music teachers, in his life."--Conrad Tao, pianist and composer In Every Good Boy Does Fine, renowned pianist Jeremy Denk traces an implausible journey. His life is already a little tough as a precocious, temperamental six-year-old piano prodigy in New Jersey, and then a family meltdown forces a move to New Mexico. There, Denk must please a new taskmaster, an embittered but devoted professor, while navigating junior high school. At sixteen he escapes to college in Ohio, only to encounter a bewildering new cast of music teachers, both kind and cruel. After many humiliations and a few triumphs, he ultimately finds his way as a world-touring pianist, a MacArthur "Genius," and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall. Many classical music memoirs focus on famous musicians and professional accomplishments, but this book focuses on the everyday: neighborhood teacher, high school orchestra, local conductor. There are few writers capable of so deeply illuminating the trials of artistic practice--hours of daily repetition, mystifying advice, pressure from parents and teachers. But under all this struggle is a love letter to the act of teaching. In lively, endlessly imaginative prose, Denk dives deeply into the pieces and composers that have shaped him--Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, among others--and offers lessons on melody, harmony, and rhythm. How do melodies work? Why is harmony such a mystery to most people? Why are teachers so obsessed with the metronome? In Every Good Boy Does Fine, Denk shares the most meaningful lessons of his life, and tries to repay a debt to his teachers. He also reminds us that we must never stop asking questions about music and its purposes: consolation, an armor against disillusionment, pure pleasure, a diversion, a refuge, and a vehicle for empathy.


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A beautifully written, witty memoir that is also an immersive exploration of classical music--its power, its meanings, and what it can teach us about ourselves--from the MacArthur Genius Grant-winning pianist "Jeremy Denk has written a love letter to the music, and especially to the music teachers, in his life."--Conrad Tao, pianist and composer In Every Good Boy Does Fi A beautifully written, witty memoir that is also an immersive exploration of classical music--its power, its meanings, and what it can teach us about ourselves--from the MacArthur Genius Grant-winning pianist "Jeremy Denk has written a love letter to the music, and especially to the music teachers, in his life."--Conrad Tao, pianist and composer In Every Good Boy Does Fine, renowned pianist Jeremy Denk traces an implausible journey. His life is already a little tough as a precocious, temperamental six-year-old piano prodigy in New Jersey, and then a family meltdown forces a move to New Mexico. There, Denk must please a new taskmaster, an embittered but devoted professor, while navigating junior high school. At sixteen he escapes to college in Ohio, only to encounter a bewildering new cast of music teachers, both kind and cruel. After many humiliations and a few triumphs, he ultimately finds his way as a world-touring pianist, a MacArthur "Genius," and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall. Many classical music memoirs focus on famous musicians and professional accomplishments, but this book focuses on the everyday: neighborhood teacher, high school orchestra, local conductor. There are few writers capable of so deeply illuminating the trials of artistic practice--hours of daily repetition, mystifying advice, pressure from parents and teachers. But under all this struggle is a love letter to the act of teaching. In lively, endlessly imaginative prose, Denk dives deeply into the pieces and composers that have shaped him--Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, among others--and offers lessons on melody, harmony, and rhythm. How do melodies work? Why is harmony such a mystery to most people? Why are teachers so obsessed with the metronome? In Every Good Boy Does Fine, Denk shares the most meaningful lessons of his life, and tries to repay a debt to his teachers. He also reminds us that we must never stop asking questions about music and its purposes: consolation, an armor against disillusionment, pure pleasure, a diversion, a refuge, and a vehicle for empathy.

30 review for Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    ‘I hope it doesn’t sound silly to say that for me there is a connection between the task of piano playing, trying to find the elusive combination of nuances that bring the phrase alive, and the search for the ‘perfect’ combination of words to express something...I guess the common thread is communication and hopefully that “shiver of delight” when something is expressed in an imaginative, unexpected way.’ - Jeremy Denk, New Yorker Magazine, 4/08/2013 This memoir by pianist Jeremy Denk traces his ‘I hope it doesn’t sound silly to say that for me there is a connection between the task of piano playing, trying to find the elusive combination of nuances that bring the phrase alive, and the search for the ‘perfect’ combination of words to express something...I guess the common thread is communication and hopefully that “shiver of delight” when something is expressed in an imaginative, unexpected way.’ - Jeremy Denk, New Yorker Magazine, 4/08/2013 This memoir by pianist Jeremy Denk traces his life from his early years living in New Jersey. By the age of six, the piano was his first love, and he was already considered to be advanced in his skills - for his years. And while there is considerable focus on his love of music, there is so much more to his story. This began as a short story published in The New Yorker in April of 2013, but there is so much more to his story that is included in this memoir. The internal stress of striving for perfection, and how his life changed when his family moved, necessitating finding new a piano teacher. For those whose dream from a young age hadn’t reached the form of obsession, that may not seem like much, but at the time it must have seemed like being ripped away from his safety net. At the age of twelve, he talks about visiting a record store in the then ‘new mall’ to choose a new record. A journey that always necessitated holding the albums in ordered to determine which one he truly wanted. He recalls it being one of the happiest acts in his life, enhanced by his parents trusting him in this area of choice. He talks about the joy in bringing home a cassette of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, based on their legendary status. Listening to the cassette, the music revealing a story. A powerful memory that he still retains. Now at the age of 51, Denk has written this memoir, sharing his journey, journeys, along the way. Personal relations through the years, both with friends and more. This is a personal journey, and while it includes his achievements it is not about the glamour, it is firmly rooted in the years of work, the personal reflections, the personal toll of seeking perfection. The pressure and the stress it creates. The love of music, of sharing this gift, and his love of teaching others. A beautifully written memoir, for those who appreciate the power of music to enhance our lives, move us, and lead us to a place that stirs something in us, personally, emotionally will enjoy this aspect, but there is much more to this. His personal growth, for one, the struggles along the way, but also, the personal acceptance for who he is, and was always meant to be, as well. Reading his thoughts on the emotions attached to music, the need for perfection in his own performance, as well as the unmitigated joy he finds in music, and the emotions and thoughts it provokes. How a passage of music can move us to tears for its beauty or the memories it stirs in us. Published: 22 Feb 2022 Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group - Random House

  2. 5 out of 5

    Don

    (FROM MY BLOG) (I'm still only half-way through the book, so this doesn't really qualify as a book review. But I've had immediate thoughts about Denk's writing, arising out of my own very limited musical experience, which I shared on my blog yesterday.) I took piano lessons for six years as a child. During my final three years, I would practice one and a half hours each day, usually before school. I enjoyed it, but -- like many kids -- once I was 15, I decided that enough was enough. I quit. Years (FROM MY BLOG) (I'm still only half-way through the book, so this doesn't really qualify as a book review. But I've had immediate thoughts about Denk's writing, arising out of my own very limited musical experience, which I shared on my blog yesterday.) I took piano lessons for six years as a child. During my final three years, I would practice one and a half hours each day, usually before school. I enjoyed it, but -- like many kids -- once I was 15, I decided that enough was enough. I quit. Years later, near the end of my legal career, I resumed piano lessons from a teacher in Seattle, dropped out again, and returned to the same teacher several years later. She was an excellent teacher, far more accomplished than my childhood teacher, having studied at the Leningrad Conservatory as a young woman. She seemed pleased to have me as a student. She asked me to perform at a couple of student recitals -- which I did, feeling somewhat awkward among a flock of child and teenaged performers. I recall performing the second movement to Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata. To a limited degree, I'm a perfectionist, and I wasn't too happy with my playing. But my teacher told me that it had gone very well, and I took her word for it. I suppose that compared with her sixth graders, I was a delight to teach. If I learned all the notes to a piece, followed all the printed notations in the score, and in addition brought some sense of emotional feeling to the piece, she professed herself very happy. "Good sense of musicality," she would say. What brings all this to mind is my current reading of Every Good Boy Does Fine, by Jeremy Denk. I hope to review this excellent book once I finish it, but what I've read so far impresses me with how little I knew about any of the classical pieces I played, with whose playing my teacher had professed herself satisfied. Denk is not only an outstanding pianist, but an excellent teacher, and his book -- published this week -- is a memoir of his life (written at age 51), intertwined with discussions of the difficulties he had mastering the pieces he was taught. These discussions are, the reader quickly realizes, a vehicle for teaching the reader an appreciation of musical theory. For me, it's also been a vehicle for teaching me humility -- although, insofar as my musical training was concerned, attaining humility has been hardly an accomplishment. I learned to play entire pages, listening to the melody where there was a discernable melody, juicing it up with a bit of emotion, and otherwise just playing the notes. Denk will spend a number of paragraphs discussing the profound musical effect of omitting just one note in a flight up a scale. His discussions are a revelation, and what they reveal is that no one ever perfects the playing of a classical piece, because there are always new subtleties to be discovered in a good composition -- subtleties that augment the pianist's understanding of the composer's vision, and that can be incorporated in his performance. A few minutes ago, I looked over my copy of the score to the second movement of Beethoven's Pathétique, and noted the composer's copious use of "slurs" -- those curving lines above or below the flow of notes. They indicate phrases, notes that should be considered together, like words in a sentence. I always ignored them, because the phrasing seemed obvious without them. Denk, as a college student, tended to ignore them as well. His teacher demanded otherwise, making him sing nonsense lyrics while playing.The point of the lyrics was that they would force me to observe the slurs written on the page, taking breaths with the words. Painstakingly, I played , while Bill made me sing along .... We practiced until I could do all the slurs exactly as written, which seemed fussy and prissy ....But Denk appreciated the teaching, once he got the hang of it. But then a later teacher called the slurs simply "sloppy notation" by Beethoven, notation that should be ignored. Sometimes, learning from two teachers with opposing views can be valuable. Denk appeciated the opinions of the second teacher, but ended up siding with the more exacting demands of the first.These days, I find the slurs almost more beautiful than the notes. They tell you about the play of the music against the beat, the visible against the invisible. ... Slurs look like an arc, and imply a journey.I don't offer these quotations because I have any feeling, one way or the other, about slurs. But Denk's discussions remind us that highly trained musicians can argue over matters that are far above the notice or understanding of a novice pianist -- even one who has been praised for his "musicality" by his well-meaning (and probably long-suffering) teacher. Denk's entire book -- in the guise of a well-written, humorous, self-deprecating memoir -- is an encouragement to everyone, whether music novices or experts, to avoid complacency, and to realize that no matter how well you think you know a piece of music, there's always something more to discover. Usually, a lot more.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    This book is probably more 3.5 than 4, but his writing about music is divine, and this memoir heartbreakingly honest.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Denk's memoir is structured like a classic buildungsroman- we follow him from childhood through his struggles to emerge as a full formed musician through to the end when all the pieces are finally in place for success. It's a satisfying formula and works well here. Interspersed are ideas on music and art and life in general, all enlightening and entertaining in their own right. As someone who never really has managed to get very far in my own musical efforts and consequently knows very little of Denk's memoir is structured like a classic buildungsroman- we follow him from childhood through his struggles to emerge as a full formed musician through to the end when all the pieces are finally in place for success. It's a satisfying formula and works well here. Interspersed are ideas on music and art and life in general, all enlightening and entertaining in their own right. As someone who never really has managed to get very far in my own musical efforts and consequently knows very little of things like music theory, I've always admired Denk's ability to describe musical concepts and ideas in ways I can process. The caveat is that in the past I've seen him do this with a piano in front of him. In written form I'm reliant on my own ability to interpret visual representations and find recordings of pieces to isolate the passages that he's talking about, which I did to the best of my ability (and I really appreciate the listening suggestions in the text and the appendix with notes on the pieces- fantastic!), but I wish I could actually listen to him play the passages and talk about them. Maybe in the audiobook. My other quibble is that he comes off a bit blind to what I think of as some of the major issues in classical music education- the power dynamic between students and teachers that is often exploited by bad actors (abuse especially suffered by women and girls), and the degree to which doors are shut to so many based on race and class. While he does touch on these issues- he clearly came from a background that was economically more challenging than most of his peers (but not so much his family could not afford a piano or lessons). He speaks of bits of bad behavior by teacher/professors, but mostly in a tone that comes off in that "that's how things were in those days" or "if you want to be great you have to suffer this" or even a bit of "isn't it crazy what we let people do *giggle*". I have no doubt that this is how he experienced his journey and there's no reason not to go on the ride with him- this is *his* story, after all. It's impossible to resist putting the music on while you read and you'll find yourself stopping over and over again to really listen to pieces old and new with exciting new angles, approaches and ideas about hearing them, which is reason enough to pick up the book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Becky Loader

    Too, too, too much.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rick Rapp

    This is a fascinating premise for a book: a professional pianist traces his career and development through his many teachers and their conflicting pedagogies. Each chapter is prefaces with works of music that parallel his journey and his frustrations. I am unfamiliar with his work, but his story is a compelling one. He is also adept as a writer in addition to his skills as a pianist. For any artist struggling with decisions about whether to continue, this is a must read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    thefourthvine

    This is a splendid memoir. I especially enjoyed the first three-quarters, when Denk looks back on his childhood self with the perspective and kindness you really only get as you pass middle age; once he is, in his narrative, about 25, his patience with his former self is replaced by frustration, and I found myself mirroring that frustration. (Also, he doesn't quite know how to end this story, which is a problem when you're writing about something that is still happening. But that's a side note.) This is a splendid memoir. I especially enjoyed the first three-quarters, when Denk looks back on his childhood self with the perspective and kindness you really only get as you pass middle age; once he is, in his narrative, about 25, his patience with his former self is replaced by frustration, and I found myself mirroring that frustration. (Also, he doesn't quite know how to end this story, which is a problem when you're writing about something that is still happening. But that's a side note.) I really enjoyed the story of how a professional musician learns music, though. It's a fascinating idea for a memoir, especially when the author is someone who has fairly intense opinions on how music education should work. (And it is sort of stunning to me how much depends on chance -- on what music teacher he gets, on what that teacher wants to teach. Musical education: a crapshoot!)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Howdle

    Denk is a fine raconteur, but this memoir became less and less interesting as the book went on. It was like sitting at a very long dinner in which the guest speaker regressed from amusing to irritating. There are many witty episodes, but I groaned at the section on why music is like sex and how chords can be climactic! Much of the musicology became egotistical showing off. Piano lessons are arduous and Every Good Boy Does Fine began to resemble practising scales.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Boudreaux

    Charming premise and his beginning is worth noting; however, it quickly became condescending, grandiose, and boring. Imagine you’re on a date and the date always derails from a question to give a long winded backstory about how spectacular they are: that’s this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    WILLIAM

    I saw his interview on Sunday Morning and thought this would be a good read. I couldn't push past page 87. One of the most condescending, self absorbed authors that is not interesting. The "wittiness" became old very quickly. Granted I don't know all of the pieces he describes in every chapter, but the lack of willingness to practice and thinking he is better than his instructors. I felt a very negative feeling as I read. Just not for me. Too bad I began underlining some passages, otherwise I wo I saw his interview on Sunday Morning and thought this would be a good read. I couldn't push past page 87. One of the most condescending, self absorbed authors that is not interesting. The "wittiness" became old very quickly. Granted I don't know all of the pieces he describes in every chapter, but the lack of willingness to practice and thinking he is better than his instructors. I felt a very negative feeling as I read. Just not for me. Too bad I began underlining some passages, otherwise I would return it. It's stuck on my shelf until the next book drive.

  11. 4 out of 5

    QA

    Amazing book, only Denk could have written such a wonderful bildungsroman, a tale of growth and more than anything else the struggle all of us have to go through to grow up in a life. The musical analysis is thrilling and quite moving, I choked up many times during this. I am going to have to read it again, just to savor many of the innumerable points he makes. He is the kind of writer that you wish you have as a friend so that you can delight in his random comments. It is up to the level of his Amazing book, only Denk could have written such a wonderful bildungsroman, a tale of growth and more than anything else the struggle all of us have to go through to grow up in a life. The musical analysis is thrilling and quite moving, I choked up many times during this. I am going to have to read it again, just to savor many of the innumerable points he makes. He is the kind of writer that you wish you have as a friend so that you can delight in his random comments. It is up to the level of his Think Denk blog, which is the highest praise one can give for writing about music

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    I love a memoir. Add in a world class musician, Oberlin, Julliard and a romantic back story? sign me up. Unfortunately, this was much less memoir, much more love story about music, for musicians, who know how to sight read music.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Kast

    I was delighted to find this book in the bookshop at Detroit Metro Airport. I have heard J Denk’s name through the years and respect the career he has carved out for himself. As an Oberlin piano graduate (1984), I appreciated the time devoted to the Oberlin years. In many ways his experience lined up with my own (he was a more highly regarded pianist). The book, however, was a reminder of the negativity and enormous egos ever present in the classical music world. I love music and continue to rea I was delighted to find this book in the bookshop at Detroit Metro Airport. I have heard J Denk’s name through the years and respect the career he has carved out for himself. As an Oberlin piano graduate (1984), I appreciated the time devoted to the Oberlin years. In many ways his experience lined up with my own (he was a more highly regarded pianist). The book, however, was a reminder of the negativity and enormous egos ever present in the classical music world. I love music and continue to reap the benefits of how it has enriched my life, but there is much in the field that is shameful (from my perspective). Denk relayed numerous examples where the behavior of the teacher borders on cruelty. I recall witnessing those kinds of behaviors myself and it turns my stomach. I also think he could have left out the ‘bad-breath’..... a non-essential detail. Nonetheless......I am grateful that he wrote the book and hopeful that readers other than musicians read it because it does give insight to the tremendous fortitude required to play an instrument at a high level.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence

    Talent and thinking in metaphors are not ordinary, but life is always ordinary. This seems to me to be the foundation of Mr. Denk's graceful and charming book. And I say "charming" because Mr. Denk is too astute not to realize that he is entrancing us, and perhaps inevitably himself, in the re-creation of his life in words and story. (I would add that there is also the likely cruelty and violation and misapprehension involved in writing about others, as Mr. Denk seems to realize in his afterword Talent and thinking in metaphors are not ordinary, but life is always ordinary. This seems to me to be the foundation of Mr. Denk's graceful and charming book. And I say "charming" because Mr. Denk is too astute not to realize that he is entrancing us, and perhaps inevitably himself, in the re-creation of his life in words and story. (I would add that there is also the likely cruelty and violation and misapprehension involved in writing about others, as Mr. Denk seems to realize in his afterword or acknowledgements.) As to talent, it is a premise of the book that Mr. Denk is a successful classical pianist. The nakedness of his work in public is proof of his talent. It is a profession in which hiding inadequacy is not possible. At the same time, however, Mr. Denk lets me appreciate and enjoy how many ways there are to screw up the music, how many mistakes can be made, how imperfection can suddenly appear. Nonetheless, his descriptions of the perfect moments, the sensibility and mechanics that lead to them, are fascinating. One can only appreciate even more whatever music one hears. One is better at conscious surrender and at judgment. As to thinking in metaphors, Mr. Denk has a wonderful ability to conjoin seemingly unrelated things in the interest of explication of what cannot likely be explained otherwise. It may be the way his mind works, on a kind of poetic level, rather than a strictly logical level. Perhaps, he could let this go free because he did not become the chemist that was the fall-back major of his college career. As to the ordinariness of life, the biographical sections of the book present a person like many others -- parents of definite ways and personalities, anxieties and insecurities, the blows of chance, the fear of teachers and authority, the mistakes and cluelessness, the careless apartments of youth, the eating at a chain restaurant, and so forth. On top of this is the educational slog not up the hill, but through the mud, to a destination that seems to be of uncertain outlines and a matter of chance, that is in the control of others. There are seizures of opportunities here -- entering a competition, focusing on a teacher -- as there are in any professional life, but unlike in other professional lives, the consequences often do not have even an imaginary form. In any event, I feel that such is the life that Mr. Denk outlines. Perhaps, in the end, more truth than re-creation makes this book so good. The reason is that Mr. Denk presents himself as so confused, clueless (sometimes), and insecure. One thing, however, is steady in this life -- an almost painful heart for music. Lawrence says check it out.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    I was drawn to the memoir by the title. When Garth Greenwell praised the writing, I picked it up immediately. EVERY GOOD BOY DOES FINE is a memoir from pianist Jeremy Denk about his education in music, weaving together biographical elements and music lessons. Separated into three sections (Harmony, Melody, Rhythm) Denk uses this structure to recount his early years through high school, college, and graduate studies. This book is misleadingly subtitled “A Love Story, In Music Lessons.” The love st I was drawn to the memoir by the title. When Garth Greenwell praised the writing, I picked it up immediately. EVERY GOOD BOY DOES FINE is a memoir from pianist Jeremy Denk about his education in music, weaving together biographical elements and music lessons. Separated into three sections (Harmony, Melody, Rhythm) Denk uses this structure to recount his early years through high school, college, and graduate studies. This book is misleadingly subtitled “A Love Story, In Music Lessons.” The love story doesn’t come in until the last chapter, and we know nothing of the love interest who is identified only by the second person “you.” The book is a detailed list of events that happened in Denk’s life about how he became a professional pianist. However, this book lacks any humility or introspection that I desire from a memoir. Perhaps, the love story was really just how much the author loves himself. I am generally uninterested in stories about prodigies and geniuses who complain about their lives without any reflection or perspective. The author had a lot of comments about everyone in his book from his parents to girlfriends to friends to teachers. Though cordial, this book felt like a recounting of all the ways that he was wronged in life, yet still achieved his dream of playing piano. The book only has passing mentions that he’s gay but dated women for a number of years until one day he just didn’t anymore. Even though the author avoided practice, he didn’t explore why at all, missing a profound opportunity to connect to others. The best passages were the lessons, where Denk is able to describe music pieces with detailed beauty. He illustrated these ideas in the audiobook by playing piano. Denk is a good writer. He can constuct an alluring sentence, but he lacks the humility and curiosity of an effective memoirist.▪️

  16. 4 out of 5

    Charles Stephen

    What an interesting book this is: part Master’s course in music appreciation; part tribute to those who taught Denk how to perform the music; part memoir of a life with music at its core. Can you think of any other memoir that comes with a playlist? In fact, using the playlist is a requirement if one wants to make any sense of the diagrams that pepper the narrative. Even so, the opportunities Denk afforded me to expand my own knowledge of musical repertoire were quite satisfying. Denk has given u What an interesting book this is: part Master’s course in music appreciation; part tribute to those who taught Denk how to perform the music; part memoir of a life with music at its core. Can you think of any other memoir that comes with a playlist? In fact, using the playlist is a requirement if one wants to make any sense of the diagrams that pepper the narrative. Even so, the opportunities Denk afforded me to expand my own knowledge of musical repertoire were quite satisfying. Denk has given us a deeply satisfying coming-of-age story. As a coming out narrative, however, it is more perplexing. He announced to us early on that he was gay, but his seemed to be a deeply closeted life. Ah, well, he wouldn’t be the first gay man to redirect his sexual appetites into his career and to postpone coming out until middle age. At least he never married a woman! If Denk never had the chance to come out to his female sexual partners, at least they know NOW why things turned out the way they did. Every Good Boy Does Fine, and, Jeremy, your readers and fans are so happy that all turned out Fine in your life. There are a several ways I measure the impact of this book. First, do I continue to think about the book’s content after I’ve turned the final page? Second, do I make any decisions or resolutions based on the content of the book? Finally, are there questions I want answered? “Yes” to all three questions. This memoir got up in my head and has stayed there.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Random House Publishing Group- Random House for an advance copy of this new memoir. The world has never been kind to artists. From the most successful to the most driven, to those who find after they have given up, either life or their passion, art never stops the outside from forcing its way in to the artists reality. To a parent berating a child during a school performance, to a bus full of of enraged elementary school students trying to find who had the My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Random House Publishing Group- Random House for an advance copy of this new memoir. The world has never been kind to artists. From the most successful to the most driven, to those who find after they have given up, either life or their passion, art never stops the outside from forcing its way in to the artists reality. To a parent berating a child during a school performance, to a bus full of of enraged elementary school students trying to find who had the affrontery to dare play classical music by destroying everything around them. Jeremy Denk got to experience this first hand. Piano and math were his passions as a child under ten, so an outsider he was doomed to be. In his memoir, Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons, the MacArthur Genus Grant and renowned classical pianist Jeremy Denk, shares stories of his childhood, his love of the piano, and of the teachers who showed him the way. Known his his liner notes, blog and other writings on classical music and how to appreciate it, Mr. Denk is as good on this kind of keyboard as he is on the piano. Mr. Denk tells of his parents, and their interesting backstories, his moves as a child which might have made it harder to socialise, gifted programs, bullying, math love and piano, piano, piano. Mr. Denk's early love/ hate with the musical instrument will be familiar to many a burgeoning rock star, he loved to play, hated to practice. Along with stories of growing up, Mr. Denk adds in stories and appreciations on various composers and their works, what makes one piece resound so, what makes another one forgettable. Some musical discussions might be a a bit much for some, but it is interesting and gives insight into how Mr. Denk's mind works. The writing is both loose and informative. Some incidents a reader would like to know more about, some incidents the reader might wonder why they were included. What comes across is that without good teachers, Mr. Denk might have been lost. Not that all his teachers were sterling, but enough of them cared, and tried to help what sounded like a unhappy child, be a little less lost. A well written memoir about a person with gifts who was lucky to have teachers and even occasionally parents that tried as best they could to make a good person. The parents had their own burdens, but they tried, and in the end, succeeded. A very good book about the power of music, family dysfunction, and the Great Composers. Recommended for music fans of all kinds, and especially for parents whose children might be gifted with musical talent.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steven Doran

    Worldly. Funny. Denk's musical life is as autumnal and American as you'd hope. It's Jeremy's origin story. Discussion of pieces runs through his memories and anecdotes. He digs deep into the circumstances which made it possible for him to become a concert artist, who had actually worked through many of his struggles with thumbs, Romanticism and temporality by the age of 14. His stories also frame the insights of musicians he's lived and worked with. It's a world that seduces and alienates, where Worldly. Funny. Denk's musical life is as autumnal and American as you'd hope. It's Jeremy's origin story. Discussion of pieces runs through his memories and anecdotes. He digs deep into the circumstances which made it possible for him to become a concert artist, who had actually worked through many of his struggles with thumbs, Romanticism and temporality by the age of 14. His stories also frame the insights of musicians he's lived and worked with. It's a world that seduces and alienates, where everyone puts everything they have into this weirdly durable cultural form, without worrying too much about why. Much of the book is analyses of keyboard works by Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert. Mostly they hit the spot, which is no surprise, since that's what got Denk's writing noticed in the first place. He explains the brilliant effects of this music without spoiling its magic. But there's little to surprise. I would have liked to find more of the irreverence and acidity of Think Denk - the blog that put him on the path to a book deal - and I recommend you visit it whether you're interested in grocery shopping, D960 or the industry of classical music in our time. I'm scratching my head wondering why, in 2022, he doesn't ever question the assumption that it's the music of Beethoven and co. that warrants the expense of countless hours (of practice, deliberation and stage time). Yet I guess that for many of those who've found themselves caught up in it all, the story he tells is true to the recent history of Classical music: Hairdos and cigarettes, crossed legs and bent spines, and the quivering superstructure of European anxiety that holds it all together.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sallan

    I waivered between 4 and 5 (as good as War and Peace? Probably not…), but the sheer audacity of the project and the exceptional writing made me round up. Kudos to the author and the publisher for including the appendix of musical works, an essential resource for a book meant to encourage listening. The book did remind me of the claustrophobia and tribalism of the studios of masters and their students, but Denk mostly keeps the focus on Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Beethoven et al. And special thanks to I waivered between 4 and 5 (as good as War and Peace? Probably not…), but the sheer audacity of the project and the exceptional writing made me round up. Kudos to the author and the publisher for including the appendix of musical works, an essential resource for a book meant to encourage listening. The book did remind me of the claustrophobia and tribalism of the studios of masters and their students, but Denk mostly keeps the focus on Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Beethoven et al. And special thanks to Denk for the discussion of the Ives Piano Trio—I wore out my Beaux Arts Trio LP listening to this piece over and over and over again and was thrilled to encounter it in these pages.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    It's funny, I was both frustrated and delighted with this book. The early chapters- the challenges of life with his parents- were a little vague, more like personal diary reminiscence than an effort to make objective sense of life, and the ending felt quite rushed. But between all of this came the marvelous joyful story of a person developing skills, honing a craft and then discovering how to turn it to become truly a personal and emotional expression of truth, to make art. I am not a pianist, a It's funny, I was both frustrated and delighted with this book. The early chapters- the challenges of life with his parents- were a little vague, more like personal diary reminiscence than an effort to make objective sense of life, and the ending felt quite rushed. But between all of this came the marvelous joyful story of a person developing skills, honing a craft and then discovering how to turn it to become truly a personal and emotional expression of truth, to make art. I am not a pianist, and the piano is not my favorite instrument, but wow, I felt his enthusiasm so strongly! I also loved the window he gives to his own learning and emotional development. In the end, the book's greatest weakness in my opinion comes from the author's great strength. His determination to have his say, to do it his way, and to be fairly self-indulgent make him a great soloist, but at times he feels more than a little over-privileged in his tone. But I enjoyed this book so much that I am willing to endure a bit of prima-donna tone just to experience the enthusiasm and verve that his story offers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    As a classical pianist, I really wanted to love this book. I really enjoy some of the passages, and the author has helped me rethink how I learn music as well as how I listen to it. But I found his writing style to be confusing at times and often just…juvenile? So I didn’t enjoy the act of reading the book very much. I do think it’s worth checking out if you’re a musician or music enthusiast, though!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dana DesJardins

    This is such a generous, inspiring book that Denk's own words about Mozart describe it: "He puts unnecessary magic in a functional spot." Denk writes so movingly about becoming a musician ("Insert countless hours of practicing in a windowless room.") that I even read the "Acknowledgements" with pleasure. His insights about music translate to life in general, as when he observes "the importance of finding a place where the story falls apart, the importance of making you believe in your doubt" as This is such a generous, inspiring book that Denk's own words about Mozart describe it: "He puts unnecessary magic in a functional spot." Denk writes so movingly about becoming a musician ("Insert countless hours of practicing in a windowless room.") that I even read the "Acknowledgements" with pleasure. His insights about music translate to life in general, as when he observes "the importance of finding a place where the story falls apart, the importance of making you believe in your doubt" as a strategy for understanding. Most compellingly, he includes illuminating notes about what to listen for in a plethora of classical pieces, inviting the reader to cultivate a musician's ear. It is also a love story, to music and teachers and a certain person. This book makes Denk one of the "people who save us from ourselves."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

    What a great book. I always wanted to learn the piano in my youth, but never had the opportunity. A uniquely illuminating memoir of the making of a musician, in which renowned pianist Jeremy Denk explores what he learned from his teachers about classical music: its forms, its power, its meaning - and what it can teach us about ourselves. Everyone should read this book to learn about Jeremy Denk and to learn something about themselves. Highly recommend.

  24. 4 out of 5

    JDK1962

    As I've mentioned in other reviews, one reason I read is to experience other lives. This book gave me the opportunity to experience a bit of a conservatory student/pianist's life. I was especially happy that it didn't skimp on the geeky musical detail, a pet peeve with a lot of musician autobiographies. As I'm not super-familiar with the classical canon, it was actually almost overwhelming at times, but I'd rather have that than being underwhelmed. Plus, as someone trying (in middle/late years) As I've mentioned in other reviews, one reason I read is to experience other lives. This book gave me the opportunity to experience a bit of a conservatory student/pianist's life. I was especially happy that it didn't skimp on the geeky musical detail, a pet peeve with a lot of musician autobiographies. As I'm not super-familiar with the classical canon, it was actually almost overwhelming at times, but I'd rather have that than being underwhelmed. Plus, as someone trying (in middle/late years) to learn an instrument and get beyond "notes on a page," the advice from his teachers and mentors that he passes on is really valuable.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    How many times a day, as a piano teacher quizzing kids on notes, do I say Every Good Boy Does Fine? A lot! I’m grateful Lisa put Every Good Boy Does Fine on my radar. It’s written by Jeremy Denk, who is new to me but is “one of America’s foremost pianists.” Wow. So many thoughts on this book. I loved much of it since, as a fellow pianist, I could relate to a lot of Jeremy’s experiences and am close to him in age. He grew up with older, quirky parents, who could be difficult to live with but who r How many times a day, as a piano teacher quizzing kids on notes, do I say Every Good Boy Does Fine? A lot! I’m grateful Lisa put Every Good Boy Does Fine on my radar. It’s written by Jeremy Denk, who is new to me but is “one of America’s foremost pianists.” Wow. So many thoughts on this book. I loved much of it since, as a fellow pianist, I could relate to a lot of Jeremy’s experiences and am close to him in age. He grew up with older, quirky parents, who could be difficult to live with but who raised him in a cultured environment, “a steady diet of PBS, especially Live from Lincoln Center.” Jeremy was a smart kid and neither his teachers nor his parents knew exactly how to best help him. “Dad thought the most important thing was for me to avoid boredom. Mom thought there was value in a normal social life. Dad thought it was too late, that I wasn’t normal and there was no use pretending. I should just make use of the time and hope for happiness in college.” Jeremy skipped a few grades and ended up in college at 16. Of course, we also read a lot about Jeremy’s early piano lessons. He shows snippets of his piano lesson notebooks, where his teacher drew cartoon figures and really creative notes. The teacher once writes “mercurial,” and Denk mentions how that is a word often used today to describe his playing. “One teacher’s comment, even one you’ve forgotten, may become the essence of you; it’s just hard to know which one.” That’s so true. I’ve often had a similar thought, both as I teach and as I parent. It’s so important to carefully choose our words since in my experience they can have a huge impact on people — either for good or for ill. Jeremy begins each chapter with a few pieces listed, either ones he played or ones that had an impact on him. I related to many of these (mainly in the early chapters; by the second half of the book he’d far eclipsed my abilities). Like me, he learned concertos in high school and his teacher played the orchestra part on another piano (or in my case, on the organ). What vivid memories those were! He realizes that piano playing is a lonely pursuit — this is also a realization that has hit home for me in recent decades. While teaching, I’ll observe that certain students are never going to make it as pianists because they’re too social. Most extroverts lack the desire or even ability to sit at the piano for the hours it takes to master a solitary skill. For me, it was pretty ideal. Almost every Sunday up in the loft at the organ, I reflect on how much happier I am sequestered in my corner behind the organ than down socializing with the masses. “When we pianists got together, it felt like fundamentally antisocial animals being forced into a herd.” Yep, relatable. Denk is bored at home, once comparing family dinners “to the conversational equivalent of Clementi” (you’d have to have played Clementi to understand this analogy, but I loved it). He heads to Oberlin College. He wasn’t sure he wanted to major in music, so he planned a double major in chemistry and piano. I could relate to that as well, since I felt immensely conflicted over choosing a major. My math teacher wanted me to major in that, my music teacher wanted me majoring in piano, I loved to write — to be good at many things really is a dilemma. Jeremy also comes across as sensitive, which is another trait common amongst the gifted. Jeremy is very open in this book, mentioning people by name and not sparing them. He and his piano teacher at Oberlin were not a good match, and I kind of felt bad for the teacher in reading scathing bits about him (Denk apologizes about this in an afterword). And on the other hand, we read about the harsh treatment that various music teachers and clinicians can dole out. This too was familiar to me, as I recalled playing for voice lessons for some students studying with some of the big name profs at IU. I would sit in the big living room-like studios there, the walls covered with posters of their opera performances across Europe, and once the prof asked me to go peel him an apple while HE played for the student since apparently he deemed me not good enough. How embarrassing! And all in an effort to earn probably $3 playing for the 30-minute lesson. I’ve also encountered master classes where the big name music clinicians really humiliate some of the students. I guess when people become famous, they tend to get into diva-like behavior … or maybe that type of behavior is just more common among the greatly talented? Either way, it’s not pleasant. Denk gets his master’s at IU Music School — I also loved that, because that’s where I got my undergrad degree (not in music). I could picture various things he mentioned in the round music building. We learn that it smells bad there, and that Julliard (where he gets his doctorate) has the most complaining students. He mentions “listening to other warmer-uppers, a psychological trap, like looking up symptoms on the internet.” Ha — another great analogy. To this day, I can’t walk the halls of the IU music school without getting a stomachache, just hearing all the pianists behind closed doors flying up and down the keyboards with lightning-fast scales. Piano Federation contest was held there, and the nervousness from the competition of those days made a lifelong imprint. I realized early on that a career in music was not for me. To begin with, and for sure after reading this book, I realize that while I might be a big fish in my small ponds, I don’t have the ability for it. A couple of decades ago, I read “Mozart in the Jungle” about a professional oboist, and was horrified by the crazy immoral lifestyle the author described among classical musicians. Here too, Denk describes going from bar to bar drinking with musician friends, sleeping with both men and women, etc. There are zero mentions of Christianity. This is just not a lifestyle I would ever fit in with. Denk has various chapters between those about his life where he analyzes musical minutiae. On the one hand, I enjoyed this because (unlike the scientific bits in a Chernobyl book, etc) I could actually understand them. On the other hand, to me this quickly got way too far into the weeds and I just didn’t care. I think that his level of depth in musical thinking proves his genius and my more pedestrian interest. I did enjoy looking up and listening to various pieces he analyzed, for instance, this piece deemed by its composer the most difficult piano piece to play (and yes, Denk played the piece for a piano jury in college!). The book made it to page 330 out of 335 before a Trump dig made it in. Note to editors/publishers: it’s 2022! Your guy is in charge now. I’m waiting to see the political references switch over to your glee, disappointment, frustration, or whatever you’re feeling about Joe Biden. Denk comes across overall as self-deprecating and humble, especially given how talented he is. I really enjoyed most of this book. The audience may be fairly narrow because I’m honestly not sure how many there are who are up for such a deep dive into music, but for me, it was a great match.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Vince

    This note is specifically about the audiobook version. It has many advantages over the print version, and is worthy of consideration even for those who have read the book, especially for those that are big Jeremy Denk fans. The first major bonus is the fact that it is read by Denk himself. His reading imparts a wonderful live quality to the narration; the personal elements of his life story leap to life. The descriptions of people and events have a vividness that would be impossible to convey eve This note is specifically about the audiobook version. It has many advantages over the print version, and is worthy of consideration even for those who have read the book, especially for those that are big Jeremy Denk fans. The first major bonus is the fact that it is read by Denk himself. His reading imparts a wonderful live quality to the narration; the personal elements of his life story leap to life. The descriptions of people and events have a vividness that would be impossible to convey even with a very talented and musically-inclined voice actor. One memorable example comes in the “More Europeans!” chapter, when Denk discusses the singing voice of the legendary cellist Janos Starker. It’s one thing to describe it as “a duck forced to quack while you squeezed it in a vice”, and another thing to hear Denk imitate it. The second bonus is that the audio book comes with numerous snippets of Denk’s piano playing to illustrate the points he’s making. Reading about music is a bit like a watching an emotionally-complex movie dialogue with subtitles and no sound. You get the gist, but there’s so much meaning lost if you aren’t able to follow the sound. The examples, which range from demonstrating his childhood Dohnanyi finger exercises to the discussions of harmony in a Bach Fugue. One only wishes they could incorporate corresponding music for every episode discussed in the book (e.g. in the discussion of Nina Simone), but that would clearly be impracticable. As for the content of book, I can’t add more than what has already been written by Corina da Fonseca-Wollheim (NY Times), David Weininger (Boston Globe), and especially Simon Callow (NY Review of Books). If you want to know what this book is about, start with those reviews.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Jeremy Denk loves music, is a fine pianist, and is an excellent writer. His recent book is basically an autobiography, but it does not neglect the music he plays and loves in preference to relating events in his life. One feature of the book is a playlist of (mostly) classical music compositions referred to at the beginning of each chapter. Some of these works are merely mentioned in passing with little commentary, while others receive analysis, sometimes whimsical. At the end of the book is a m Jeremy Denk loves music, is a fine pianist, and is an excellent writer. His recent book is basically an autobiography, but it does not neglect the music he plays and loves in preference to relating events in his life. One feature of the book is a playlist of (mostly) classical music compositions referred to at the beginning of each chapter. Some of these works are merely mentioned in passing with little commentary, while others receive analysis, sometimes whimsical. At the end of the book is a must-read Appendix in which he presents more in-depth analysis along with recommendations of recordings of each of the pieces in these playlists. This list includes much chamber music and also some opera, orchestral music, and other items that are not strictly piano music. It's admittedly helpful to be familiar with the working of music and to have some previous familiarity with the repertoire discussed in order to benefit from this, which I suppose is why he made this an appendix. Denk is known as a solo pianist and also as an author on music. (He's had several articles published in The New Yorker, which fact alone commends his writing ability.) Happily, Denk is deeply familiar with particularly the world of chamber music, particularly with works for a single solo instrument with piano accompaniment. Denk admits to being a monster sightreader, which other musicians doubtless tuned into when he was still young, with the result that he was often asked to serve as an "accompanist" for instrumentalists working on compositions for their instrument with piano. The result has been that he's served often in a collaborative role as a pianist since his youth. To call the piano part to any of the five Beethoven cello sonatas (or the violin sonatas or any of Brahms's works for violin and piano or cello and piano) an "accompaniment" is to have missed the essence of these works by miles. But musicians (meaning pianists in this case) have gotten used to this misnomer and shrug it off. They know what you mean if you say it and probably won't bite your head off for doing so. Denk had a terrific experience as a student, having done full terms (four years) at Oberlin, which he entered at age 16, where he also picked up a degree in chemistry, a master's from Indiana University (a music school that is admittedly one of the best in the country in music performance—hard for this University of Illinois alumnus to admit), where he learned at the feet of his primary teacher, György Sebök and where he lingered another four years, and a doctoral degree from Juilliard. Interestingly, he won the annual student concerto competition at all three, at Juilliard barely a month after arriving in New York as the new kid in town, whereupon he suddenly found himself playing on the stage at Alice Tully Hall of Lincoln Center under Kurt Masur. Gulp. For a kid that spent most of his growing-up years in New Mexico, this was a remarkable accomplishment. Jeremy Denk strikes me as the sort of person that I would enjoy knowing and talking with personally. The things he writes make me laugh out loud. I have Denk's superb recording of the Ligeti Etudes paired with Beethoven's Opus 111 (perhaps my all-time favorite piece of music), also his recording of both Ives sonatas. It's the second (Concord) that is the absolute monster to play, and it has been a favorite of mine since I was in high school (I even own the score), though not many pianists tackle it. Both are heartily recommended.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mika

    This was a wonderful, engrossing, and frustrating memoir. Its virtues are plentiful, just like Denk's playing. (I still love Gould's second recording of the Goldbergs the most, but Denk's is really growing on me. And, either way, don't judge me on my musical views.) Denk is also absolutely fantastic in writing about: he writes about complicated stuff accessibly and excitingly. The playlists that begin each chapter got me checking out lots of pieces I had either never heard, not much cared for, o This was a wonderful, engrossing, and frustrating memoir. Its virtues are plentiful, just like Denk's playing. (I still love Gould's second recording of the Goldbergs the most, but Denk's is really growing on me. And, either way, don't judge me on my musical views.) Denk is also absolutely fantastic in writing about: he writes about complicated stuff accessibly and excitingly. The playlists that begin each chapter got me checking out lots of pieces I had either never heard, not much cared for, or even disliked with new ears and new appreciation. But it's about more than music: it's a memoir about growing up and learning. Learning anything. Yes, obviously, learning music. But my hunch is that any nerd can relate to being really good at and really interested in something, and being a bit different from others, and trying to figure out what you want to do, how to manage learning, school, social life, and particularly about how to think about college and graduate school. Sure, a niche crowd. But much broader than world-class musicians. Denk is willingness to be ruthless about himself, and that's charming, compelling, and interesting. But the memoir is frustrating, too. The blurbs talk about it being a love letter to his teachers. Yes, sure. But, thank god, not only a love letter. Denk writes about how he had, over the years of learning music, particular challenges in learning to appreciate rests, elisions, accents, and slurs. Learning, in particular, to appreciate the meanings composers put in what's not there. And that's how this memoir often feels, too. That's why I found it frustrating. I was reading this book to learn about Denk's love life, partners, or sexuality, but the multiple hints suggest I should care about it, and, sure, it's important in growing up, and beyond. But insofar as there are answers, they are in asides, quick mentions, or even occasionally in the frustrating cryptic hints that drive everyone crazy on social media. The elisions are far more frustrating in the discussion of teachers and institutions. There are definitely worse and better teachers, we clearly learn. And there are hints that Denk has both come to replicate some bad practices and perhaps also become aware of them. Still — and maybe I'm projecting — but given all the other evidence about how horribly abusive and pedagogically shitty practices in the best music schools are, I would have come to like Denk a bit more if he had more explicitly condemned the harassment (sexual and otherwise) and abuse of students. Actually, I would have even appreciated it more if he had offered an explicit defense of pedagogy that makes students cry all the time. I would have disagreed, but now I'm left wondering. In this, this memoir kind of reminds me of another musical autobiography by another hero of mine: Bruce Springsteen. Both the Boss and Denk are, beyond being musical geniuses (though, Denk's dislike of contemporary music notwithstanding, Springsteen is the stronger of the two), brilliant writers, and, in some ways, thinkers. But neither appears to be an analytical theorist: there's a weird failure of reflectivity, or at least shared reflectivity, in what we ultimately read. You can chalk up these complaints for me being a political theorist, and I hope they don't let you from reading this amazingly written memoir.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gaili Schoen

    Jeremy Denk's memoir, Every Good Boy Does Fine, is a poignant exploration into his development from a scrappy, sensitive child of troubled parents into a McArthur "Genius" pianist. Denk's father had been a monk in the Catholic church for a decade, when he decided he needed to rejoin the world: "He felt he was engaged in a form of escapism---devotion to God was a moral failing greater than all the rest. He drove away from Catholicism in May 1969, and was stopped for speeding in Tennessee. I was bo Jeremy Denk's memoir, Every Good Boy Does Fine, is a poignant exploration into his development from a scrappy, sensitive child of troubled parents into a McArthur "Genius" pianist. Denk's father had been a monk in the Catholic church for a decade, when he decided he needed to rejoin the world: "He felt he was engaged in a form of escapism---devotion to God was a moral failing greater than all the rest. He drove away from Catholicism in May 1969, and was stopped for speeding in Tennessee. I was born in 1970." Denk's mother was a divorcée with three children when she met and hastily married his father, and by the time Jeremy was 10, it became clear that she was an alcoholic: "Drinking by that point [had] become mom's true discipline, demanding daily repetition and devotion---just like my piano playing. Both of us were getting more serious, digging in." Denk struggles with questions about his ambiguous sexuality, his father's stoicism and disapproval, his mother's increasing decline, and the trials and tribulations of his piano lessons with early teachers. In college Denk meets Hungarian pianist György Sebők who becomes his most important mentor: Sebők: "'The secret to Heifetz was that he never imagined he could miss a note....That sounds ridiculous to say, perhaps. But the thing is, he probably never practiced with fear. If he missed a note, he said, well, I have to shift a little higher or move this way or that way, but he didn't let himself learn the fear of the missed note. You, on the other hand,' he continued, 'are running for that chord as if it were running from you.'" Denk speaks more about his fears at competitions: "I remember practicing for the finals, feeling confident, when another pianist knocked on my door, then came in to try to psyche me out, saying, 'You're so sure you will get to the finals?' in a weird and undermining tone. Maybe my fear and suspicion of other pianists...goes back to that moment.' Denk waxes philosophically about the learning how to play music beautifully: "Rhythm, like smell, is an atmosphere you get used to, that you don't notice, after a short time. Our idea of what is proper rhythm seems so natural that we don't consider our biases." His memoir is filled with the wisdom he has gathered from teachers and his experiences as a touring pianist. "I lifted my arm confidently to play a passage. A flurry of wrong notes rang out. I had a moment of panic...and was beginning a litany of self-blame when I heard a voice in my head, with a quaint Hungarian accent: 'The problem with you, is that you're a perfectionist.' I played more freely.... [My teacher] Leland had been right to remind me that there was no end to the details one could strive for. But Sebők was also right---the desire for perfection could be a deadly weakness. Living comfortably in that paradox...is part of being a musician." I enjoyed reading Every Good Boy Does Fine, as well as listening to Denk's narration and piano excerpts which were included in the audiobook. This book is for pianists and for the classical music lover who might like to gain a deeper understanding of how one becomes a professional musician. Though it gets bogged down in the details sometimes, I am glad I continued reading; it's not often that we can learn such intimate details about a virtuoso while they are still alive and performing. As with Alicia Keys' More Myself, I find the journey to artistry fascinating. Hardcover 384 pages, Audiobook 13 hours, 16 minutes.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Julie Stielstra

    Discursive, enthusiastic, ebullient, deeply knowledgeable and a sparkling writer, Denk has cracked open a door for me (a little way!) to the mystery of musicianship. I am one of those "I know nothing about music but I know what I like" people, and what I like is classical music. I know more about visual arts, and have long harbored the notion that artists' eyes simply operate differently from most peoples'. Denk shows us how musicians' ears, brains, and muscles operate differently too. From boyh Discursive, enthusiastic, ebullient, deeply knowledgeable and a sparkling writer, Denk has cracked open a door for me (a little way!) to the mystery of musicianship. I am one of those "I know nothing about music but I know what I like" people, and what I like is classical music. I know more about visual arts, and have long harbored the notion that artists' eyes simply operate differently from most peoples'. Denk shows us how musicians' ears, brains, and muscles operate differently too. From boyhood on, he hears and feels and responds to music note by note, vibration by vibration, schooling his fingers and wrists to influence and connect (or separate, or delay, or modulate) each note to aspire to some mental image of how it should sound and what those notes "want to do," and manages to explain that experience in words someone like me can understand. His parents - in a long and difficult marriage - seem somewhat puzzled by what son Jeremy wants to do, but they buy him lessons, a piano, ferry him off to competitions and teachers, through long years of learning. Denk pays tribute to his many teachers and their varied eccentricities, insights, contradictions, encouragements and browbeating - with great affection and gratitude for what he learned from them even as they made him cry or rage. He is disarmingly frank about his own foibles and foolishness throughout this coming-of-age-and-out memoir without ever drowning out the music. He goes into musicologist mode in several chapters on harmony, melody and rhythm that remain well beyond my comprehension, but is slily trying to tie these principles in to the life story he is telling. I chuckled when he complained about Bach's Goldberg Variations and how the trouble with them is everyone constantly asking which Glenn Gould version you prefer. I have long held a firm opinion on that. Then I found Denk's own recording, listened to it, and recoiled... nothing like either, and I didn't like it. But then I began to apply a little of what I learned from Denk himself in this engaging book as I listened, and thought I began to hear what he might be doing, and my appreciation vaulted. To be entertained and educated - nice work, Jeremy Denk.

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