Music by the Book!

Music by the Book

Music by the Book!

A pairing of music and words
just for book groups!

In Music by the Book!, Tom Moon, author of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, pairs words and music just for book groups.

For your next gathering, why not pair a book selection from Reading Group Choices with a music choice from Music by the Book!


This month, Tom suggests some music parings for your discussion of
The Soloist
Steve Lopez.

Nathaniel Ayers, the gifted homeless musician who is the subject of Steve Lopez’ The Soloist, struggles with mental illness. Once a student at Juilliard, Ayers fits the profile of one who fell through society’s safety net: He’s mistrustful, and prone to outbursts, and he doesn’t always make sense. Except, that is, when the subject is music. Then, he becomes not simply lucid but animated with passion. And deeply knowledgable.

As he follows Ayers around, Lopez – a metro columnist for the LA Times – gets an education in music, particularly in the classical music that is Ayers’ specialty. One great way to get immersed in the world of The Soloist is to explore a few of the pieces that Ayers discusses so eloquently. Below are a few choice recordings.

Ernest Bloch: Howard Hanson Conducts Bloch. (Mercury). These performances of Bloch’s key works were recorded live at Rochester New York’s Eastman Theater in the late 1950s. In The Soloist, Ayers expresses affinity for Bloch’s “Schelomo, Rhapsody for Cello & Orchestra,” which on this recording is played with gusto by cellist Georges Miquelle.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, conductor. (Columbia) This is the piece the LA Philharmonic is rehearsing on the day Nathaniel Ayers first visits Disney Concert Hall. The Bernstein version, recorded in 1966, captures the heaving intensity of the score, with its melodies crashing into melodies in what Bernstein describes (in the accompanying audio lecture) as “whiplashes of sound.”

Dvorak: The Dvorak Album, Yo-Yo Ma. (Sony). Released in 2004 to mark the 100th anniversary of Antonin Dvorak’s death, this compilation contains the Czech composer’s legendary Cello Concerto in b minor, another of Ayers’ favorites. It’s performed by the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Mazur; the solo passages are handled with great bubbling passion by the megastar Yo-Yo Ma, who makes an appearance late in The Soloist.

About Tom:

Tom Moon

For the last three and a half years, award-winning music journalist Tom Moon has been searching out peak musical experiences from all genres and every corner of the earth. 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, published by Workman Publishing in August 2008, is the result of his journey. Covering both acknowledged world-culture masterworks (J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations) and recordings that have been unfairly overlooked (Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left), the book is designed to encourage listeners to become explorers.

Moon lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs and an attic full of music outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.