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It’s Hot As Hell and I’m Not Going To Take It Anymore!

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Needless to say, this summer has been hot, hot, hot. And with heat comes anger, frustration and irritability. Just yesterday, I hopped on a flight from Pittsburgh to New York, sad to leave home but hopeful for opportunities that would be just around the corner once we landed our new apartment on the Upper West Side.

It began with a woman, yakking incessantly and unnecessarily loud on her phone in the terminal’s waiting area. Then, a motor mouth of a girl who seemed to not be able to go two words without saying “like,” “totally,” or, “I know, right?!” Finally, it was the subway, rife with fantastically charming people who had no problem pushing you aside for the seat you so desperately wanted to plop down in and rest from dragging your overweight suitcase through the maze of the metro station.

I was hot as hell, and I was not going to take it anymore. So, as I always do in such situations, I pulled out some literature and began to read. I read furiously. I read every nook and cranny of that Newsweek issue until – not realizing it at first – I began rereading articles. Therein lies the secret of escaping the summer madness (And I thought winter madness was bad.): Take out a good book or lengthy magazine and just plow right into it.

Since I moved into my former violin instructor’s apartment for a three-month sublet, I’ve picked up some good reads here and there, some even from this very apartment.

Jascha Heifetz: As I Knew Him
by Ayke Agus

Before I had even picked up this slim read and scrutinized the photograph of the rather surly looking man on the front, I had no idea who Jascha Heifetz was or why someone thought it necessary to write a short chronicle on his later years in life. I remember that I was sitting in the 4th floor cafe of the 66th Street Barnes & Noble when I had finally finished the book and felt a heavy stone in my stomach, somewhat taken aback how much the book had affected me. It’s a fascinating narrative, told by Mr. Heifetz closest (and in the end, his only) confidant, Indonesian-born Ayke Agus. She reveals to the reader the musician’s finest moments – always shared, of course, with music, mostly Bach’s – and the most personal ones when madness took Heifetz down a path of isolation and misunderstanding. The author has no resentment for her master, but nor does she wax poetic or create a misleading veneer on the subject. It’s a very real light on both a human being and a musical superhuman, with every crack showing in between.

The Violin Maker: Finding a Centuries Old Tradition in a Brooklyn Workshop
by John Marchese
Months before I had found this on the New York Public Library website, I had been looking for a light read on how violins are manufactured. I was pleased to discover that this book was written quite simply, even for someone who is not very familiar with the instrument (like me); yet it should have come as no surprise as the author himself isn’t a violinist, let alone a string player! Marchese took me deep into Brooklyn (Funny, seeing as how I began the book while still living in Brooklyn, only to finish it much later.) into a humble craftsman’s shop and simultaneously overseas to hunt down the origins of this ancient art. Who knew so much went into creating the final product we see hanging in music stores? The book does not get overly technical and offers the reader a look into not only the lives of the music makers, but the life of a single violin from start to finish. The author – and the violin makers – have a great sense of humor when discussing who the instrument is being made for: Violinists are very particular people!

Chronicles of Old New York: Exploring Manhattan’s Landmark Neighborhoods
by James Roman
It was an awkward and rather unpromising situation, but my brief stint (not even two days) at Museyon Guides did give me one thing: a free book discussing the rich – and I mean rich! – past of New York City. While it focuses its attention on the city’s neighborhoods – namely the lower half of the island where it all really picked up steam and started pushing upward – the book brought forward some colorful big players in NYC history, including the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Astors, to name a few. Relatively short but rich in description as well, the guide includes detailed maps and some fun pictures of dead people, now defunct automobiles and buildings you wouldn’t believe existed that are now nowhere to be found.

Violin Dreams
by Arnold Steinhardt
Though it turned out to be one of my less favorite reads, Arnold Steinhardt’s Violin Dreams was enthralling in the way the author constantly obsessed over Bach’s Chaconne, the main theme throughout the book and the seemingly unobtainable perfection he chased after throughout his life. While the violinist tended to fall in and out of pretentiousness (Oh, what the hell, aren’t they all that way?), I more enjoyed the sections in which he talked of his fellow ensemble mates, their quirks and how they interacted with one another through and with music. The book even included a CD of Steinhardt’s works, along with, of course, Bach’s Chaconne. Listening to it alone, I was at first bored and didn’t understand, yet when I sat down and tried again with my roommate, I appreciated it a little more. And this, my friends, segways beautifully into the next book.

What to Listen for in Music
by Aaron Copland
I have to honest here: I have yet to finish the damned thing. It’s a very difficult read with an extremely pretentious tone. And yet, the first few chapters – an introduction, foreword and preface added by various editors throughout the years since the book’s publication in 1953 – all go to great lengths to explain that this book sets forth no pretentious rule book on how to properly listen to music. Though I have thoughts otherwise, I’ll undoubtedly have some more summer rage to plow forward and discover the secret on how to really, truly listen to music and learn a little bit about one of America’s greatest composers.


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