Review: The Music Teacher by Barbara Hall

imagedbThe Music Teacher by Barbara Hall starts out like this:

“I am the mean music teacher.  I am the cranky woman you remember from your youth, the one whose face you dreaded seeing, whose breath you dreaded smelling as I leaned over you, tugging at your fingers.  You made jokes about me, drew caricatures of me in your notebooks, made puns out of my name, swore never to be me.

Well, listen.  I swore never to be me, too.”

Pearl Swain is a 40 year old divorced violin teacher working in a Los Angeles music store.  She started playing the violin too late to ever truly be great, plus her parents couldn’t afford proper lessons, so here she is.  She never considered any other career but music- it is all she’s ever wanted to do.  Her co-workers are also frustrated musicians, teaching instead of playing, picking up small gigs here and there, and endlessly discussing music.  The clerks and teachers argue about who has more students and why, about different teaching philosophies, about who is the best guitar player ever, or which instrument is the best.  The continuous banter reminded me of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (set in a London record shop).  

Pearl has a wry sense of humor and I liked her introspective thoughts on music and life.  But with a failed marriage, a half-hearted attempt at a career, few friends and a solitary existence, she wears her social isolation like a jacket. She seems to have given up on herself and on any dreams for the future.  According to one of her co-workers, she fails to ‘extend herself’.  She needs to get a life.

In walks Hallie, a troubled teen full of talent and promise but saddled with an attitude and a family that is not really hers.  The state pays for her lessons and her ‘family’ could care less.  She doesn’t want to be there but, according to Hallie,  “every half hour I spend here is a half hour I don’t have to spend at home.”  Pearl recognizes Hallie’s gift immediately (perfect pitch! a natural ear!) and becomes excited and over-invested in her future, as any teacher might.  But then she crosses a line and becomes over-involved in her life.  

All of this causes Pearl to ruminate on her own life.  There are so many good quotes about music and life in The Music Teacher.  This one comes during Pearl’s first session with Hallie, when she sees that the battered violin Hallie pulls from the case has been played, and if a wood instrument has been played, ‘that’s half the battle’.

“I will tell you why, though you might not care.  A musician is used to that- caring to an outrageous degree about something everyone else ignores.”

02midi-imageThe Music Teacher is author Barbara Hall’s 9th book.  She is also the award-winning creator of the tv series Judging Amy and Joan of Arcadia, and contributes scripts for other shows as well.  

This is an excellent little book, one that held my interest from beginning to end.  It’s definitely introspective, with more thoughts and dialogue than action (not a lot really happens).  That is not a criticism- I thoroughly enjoyed it- but if you like your books action-packed, this won’t be for you.  It made me think about my relationships with others, the depth of my friendships and acquaintances (or lack thereof)- when to get involved with another’s problems and when to mind your own business.  It also made me think about music and lessons, following your dreams or those of your children, when to push a kid or let them decide, when to encourage, when to back off.  Highly recommended.

Thank you to Algonquin Books for sending me this book to review.

American Idol Crown- Who will take it?

Some of you may know I’m a rabid American Idol fan, and “my” idol this season has been David Cook, HOWEVER..  tonight it was all about the other David- the young, cute, and enormously talented David Archuleta.  What a voice this 17 year old kid has! I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t win.

Who do you think will take the Idol crown tomorrow night?  I still like David Cook, and I predict he’ll have a big future, but David Archuleta is pure talent.

Celebrating Poetry, Music, and Daughters

In celebration of April being National Poetry Month, and in an even BIGGER personal celebration of good test results from a biopsy my daughter had last week, I’d like to share the lyrics to “In My Daughter’s Eyes” by Martina McBride.


In my daughter’s eyes I am a hero
I am strong and wise and I know no fear
But the truth is plain to see
She was sent to rescue me
I see who I wanna be
In my daughter’s eyes

In my daughter’s eyes everyone is equal
Darkness turns to light and the
world is at peace
This miracle God gave to me gives me
strength when I am weak
I find reason to believe 
In my daughter’s eyes

And when she wraps her hand
around my finger
Oh it puts a smile in my heart
Everything becomes a little clearer
I realize what life is all about

It’s hangin’ on when your heart
has had enough
It’s giving more when you feel like giving up
I’ve seen the light
It’s in my daugter’s eyes

In my daughter’s eyes I can see the future
A reflection of who I am and what will be
Though she’ll grow and someday leave
Maybe raise a family
When I’m gone I hope you see how happy
she made me
For I’ll be there
In my daughter’s eyes



He Is Awesome

Wow.  Just wow.

My Idol Favorite

David Cook is amazing with this mesmerizing version of Billie Jean.

1st Band Recital

Last fall, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to let my daughter L. play the trumpet in the school district’s brand new beginning band, provided she promised she would practice in her room, with the door closed, somewhat out of earshot. Does that sound mean? Hmm. Well, last year in 4th grade she drove my positively INSANE practicing the recorder day and night, and while I’m all for a musical education, I really do enjoy my sanity. Anyway, it was a condition she agreed to, so we both got what we wanted.

When we went to the music store, I had to sign a one year rental agreement for the trumpet. I was a bit reluctant to sign it, worrying that L. would grow tired of it and not want to play it after a couple of months. She’s had a tendency towards flakiness with other things in the past (piano, dance) but she assured me that she “always” wanted to play the trumpet and be in band. When did this come about?

In September the band sounded more like a dying bird, or a roomful of dying birds, or birds being tortured with hot pointy sticks screaming in protest, or-well, you get the idea. They didn’t bear much of an auditory resemblance to an actual band. Flash forward a few weeks and, what have we here? A real band!

They held a winter concert last night and played several songs, including Au Claire de la Lune, Ode to Joy, and Lightly Row, and they actually sounded really good. The audience, consisting of mostly parents, grandparents, and siblings, would have clapped at anything, but the applause was practically thunderous. These kids worked hard, and it showed.

L. practices her trumpet almost every day. I never have to ask or remind her. She loves band, loves her teacher, loves the band kids. It makes her so happy and it seems it’s not just a whim. Maybe it wasn’t so crazy to say yes to this noisy instrument after all!

Weekend Update – From Chef Hats to Santa’s Lap

What a weekend! It was nonstop action around here.

On Friday, the Girl Scout troop descended on my house for a holiday party and sleepover. We turned my kitchen into an Italian Trattoria, complete with opera music (Russell Watson “The Voice” ) and red and white checked tablecloths. The girls donned homemade chef hats, then proceeded to whip up a batch of brownies, a green salad, garlic bread, and huge amounts of spaghetti. After pouring the sparkling cider, we all sat down to an awesome meal. I was amazed at how well these 10 year olds knew their way around the kitchen. They prepared everything with minimal supervision.

After cleaning up, the kids got into their pajamas and had their Secret Sister gift exchange. Later they watched Ratatouille and ate popcorn while the leaders (Sara and I) pumped up the air mattresses. The girls finally conked out around midnight. After a quick breakfast of cinnamon rolls and oj, the girl scouts were all picked up by 9am Saturday morning.

It took a while, but I am finally in a holiday mood. On Saturday, hubby, the girls and I hit the mall. I didn’t have a very detailed list, so my shopping was sort of haphazard. The big event was the visit to Santa. My kids are believers, pretty much (this may be the last year), and the Santa at the mall is very good. He picks up on the littlest things. For instance, he overhears me say their names, and then he uses them as if he knows them personally. My 8 yr old said, “Mom, I don’t think he’s a helper. I think he’s the real one. He knows my name!” Even my jaded 10 year old was impressed. After the obligatory photo, we did a little more shopping, and then left the mall in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

After a sunny afternoon, it started to rain lightly as we were leaving the mall. “Rain..just what you want as you traipse around looking for a tree,” my Grinchy mind thought. My plan of taking a picture at the tree lot to use on Christmas cards was looking like a soggy bust. I grumbled my displeasure to my husband as we drove to the lot near the mall, but then we turned a corner to see an enormous, brilliant, perfectly formed rainbow. Was this God’s way of telling me to put a sock in it??

It was cold (by California standards–56 degrees) and still raining lightly, so we quickly walked the lot. I wanted a 6-7 foot Noble, and they had scads of them, all beautiful. In past years, we’ve gone to 2, sometimes 3, lots before finding the right tree. This year, it couldn’t have been easier. We found a gorgeous tree, the rain stopped, we asked the man helping us to snap a picture, and we were in and out in 15 minutes.

Once we got home, hubby and I had a heated discussion about where to put the tree. Good sense won out (mine). We got the tree into the stand and put it in the room, but decided to leave the decorating for Sunday. That settled, we made dinner then snuggled up and watched The Grinch (not the classic cartoon, but the mildly creepy Jim Carey version. The kids liked it, but I read my book instead).

On Sunday, we played all the Christmas cds, everything from Elvis to Bing to Diana Krall, while decorating the tree. This is definitely the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had. It’s got a great shape, with lots of spaces for ornaments. The girls got bored halfway through, so they decided to play Santa and reindeer. L. dressed like Santa, K. dressed like Rudolph, and they recruited our neighbor to be an extra (lesser) reindeer. They gathered up some of their old toys that they no longer play with, put them in a sack, and off they went in the wagon taking toys to the 3 yr. old twins down the street. It was very cute.

Once the tree was done, I took the tree lot picture in to have cards made at the drugstore. 30 minutes later, cards in hand, I left to do some grocery shopping (so easy when I’m by myself). After shopping and dinner, I addressed 60 cards by hand while hubby and the kids set up the train around the tree.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Please consider sending a Holiday card or a Thank You card to a recovering soldier. It’s important for them to know they are remembered and appreciated. My Girl Scout troop sent a stack of them. Here is the address:

Recovering American Soldier
C/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 George Ave. NW
Washington DC 20307-5001