Piano Lessons by Noah Adams

What is it like to start playing the piano at age fifty-one? Noah Adams, longtime broadcast voice for NPR, relates his year of pianojuggling career and new hobby when he puts some serious money into a new Steinway upright. His goal is to play Robert Schumann’s “Träumerei” for his wife at Christmas.

His is not the “one lesson a week” approach. Adams uses a variety of methods to tame the 88 keys including computer programs, seminars, and hardcore advice from friends and professionals. His long tenure as co-host of All Things Considered has allowed him contacts to all types of people including pianists, and he is quick to glean their wisdom.

Along his journey from middle C to proficiency, Adams also endured setbacks, drops in inspiration, and then some powerful encouragement. Perhaps the most interesting and interacting section of the book was his participation in a week-long piano workshop in Vermont run by family members out of a huge 42 room house. There, he learns from a different person for each lesson and manages to struggle through a difficult piece for recital time. We won’t find out however, until the very end, whether the infamous “Traumerei” will elude him.

I liked Adams’ style in Far Appalachia and I liked this book as well. He finds stories out of the most mundane of events and makes them of interest, often with a dash of droll humor. The book came out in 1996, so some things in the book seemed dated, but that’s a small issue.  The tidbits about the history of the piano add to the book’s worth. Frankly, reading Piano Lessons made me want to play the limited partial pieces that I struggle through from time to time, and maybe try to learn “Träumerei” again – it’s been years.

After reading this one, you might like The Piano Shop on the Left Bank.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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