All week, Soundcheck is featuring conversations with authors about music (and musicians about books) in our Writers Club. Thanks to the staff members from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, who compiled a list of their recommended musical reads -- from musician biographies to the history of baseball's biggest hit. Check it out below!
Picks from George Boziwick, Chief, Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
"Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'" by Andy Strasberg, Bob Thompson, Tim Wiles. Forward by Carly Simon, introduction by Bud Selig.
Everything you’ve always wanted to know about baseball’s unofficial anthem is featured here. More than just a book about baseball or the song, this is a delightful “coffee table” publication that will both enrich and entertain. An accompanying audio CD contains sixteen moving and delightful versions of the song including performances by Dr. John, Arturo Sandoval, Carly Simon, and Harry Caray.
"Charles Ives: A Life with Music" by Jan Swafford
Jan Swafford has written the ultimate biography of one of America’s most original composers. Swafford explores the depths of defeat that Ives experienced trying to get his music heard, and the ultimate triumphs he finally achieved in his later years. Ives own “borrowings” of Americana— the hymns, tunes and other local sounds that are both cleverly and beautifully incorporated into his works are contextualized in the telling of Ives’ own life experiences. Late nineteenth-century societal attitudes frustrated him and ran counter to his emerging musical identity. But his father, bandmaster George Ives, himself a musical innovator and experimenter, encouraged Ives’ and in some ways determined his son’s own destiny as an American original. A must read especially for composers.
"Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music" by Joel Sachs
Ok, so I wrote one of the dust jacket endorsements for this book! I’ve had the amazing privilege to work with Joel Sachs in the reading room for over twenty years as he researched and finally rejoiced in the completion of this first full length biography of one of America’s most innovative composers. Cowell was Mr. Modernist, helping to institutionalize so much of what we now take for granted: early explorations in world music, explaining complex musical and rhythmic concepts and reproducing them on specialized instruments, advocacy for new music, and the promotion, and publication of other composers, the founding of music service organizations, and mentor to many including Lou Harrison and John Cage. The story of Cowell’s “whole world of music” will energize you, sadden you, and make you wish you had known Henry sooner.
Picks from Jonathan Hiam, Curator, American Music Collection and The Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
"The Glass Bead Game" by Hermann Hesse
Sure, mid twentieth-century Teutonic fiction might sometimes read with more seriousness than many Americans such as myself care to entertain, yet the humor, logic, and clarity with which the author takes on the intellectual cauldron of his day is worth the effort. In his final novel, Hesse creates a futuristic intellectual utopia in which the main character, Joseph Knecht synthesizes earthly reality with the spiritual idealism of German modernism. Knecht is drawn into it all by the Music Master, a noble, heady, and peaceful teacher, whose lessons about the inseparability of life and music are transformative moments not just for Knecht, but for the reader as well.
"Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene," by Tim Lawrence
Lawrence's biographical jewel of the most unheralded musical figure of New York's boundary-merging downtown scene not only gives Arthur Russell his first thoughtful and thorough treatment, but approaches his milieu with a seamless assimilation of the disparate characters and locations that defined downtown 70s and 80s NYC. Careful and curious, Lawrence introduces us to the conflicted, progressive, and frequently awkward Russell, whose contributions to contemporary music are just beginning to achieve the recognition they deserve.
"Playing With History: The Historical Approach to Musical Performance," by John Butt
Butt's clear, yet dense survey of the political, philosophical, and aesthetic currents which spawned the "Early Music Movement" of the last century gives just hearing to both sides of what ultimately became one of Western Music's greatest arguments, if not one of its most notable stylistic developments. The formidably researched study is not only a scholarly treat, but a revel in Butt's own musicianship and performance experience, which, although never the subject of the book, informs his text with an honesty and objectivity that will illuminate and satisfy any reader who seeks to understand an otherwise bizarre fixation on an imagined musical past. Definitely a thickly penned study, but one which empowers the reader to ask his or her own questions about historically informed performance.
Picks from Douglas Reside, Digital Curator for the Performing Arts
"The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations" by Steven Suskin
This is a fantastic reference guide to the previously undocumented work of the Broadway orchestrators who are responsible for much of the sound the classic musical theater scores of the twentieth century. Suskin possesses the rare ability to write about this highly technical work in a way that is accessible even to non-musicians.