- 2018 – 2023
BJ Fogg, PhD. “Tiny Habits” . I found this book via the “2022 Global Resilience Summit” which in turn I found via Rick Hanson whose excellent book “Resilient” had been recommended to me by a therapist. “Tiny Habits” is not the first book to emphasize “baby steps” to achieving your goals but it is the best. Very realistic, and completely non-judgmental, full of excellent ideas and interesting case studies. One of the things he emphasizes is that “motivation” gets you only so far: your goals have to be accomplishable. I found many excellent ideas applicable to teaching here.
Daniel Coyle “The Little Book of Talent – 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills” . One of my favorites: Distinguishing between hard and soft skills. “Hard, high-precision skills are actions that are performed as correctly and consistently as possible, every time. They are about repeatable precision. It helps to be careful, slow, and keenly attuned to errors because the first reps establish the pathway for the future. Soft, high-flexibility skills aren’t about doing the same thing perfectly every time, but rather about being agile and interactive. With these skills, we are not trying for Swiss-watch precision, but rather for the ability to quickly recognize a pattern or possibility, and to work past a complex set of obstacles. Soft skills are built by playing and exploring.”
Friedrich Wieck (1785-1873) “Piano and Song – HOW TO TEACH, HOW TO LEARN, AND HOW TO FORM A JUDGMENT OF MUSICAL PERFORMANCES” (I cannot find the date when he wrote this book. The English translation was published in 1875.) I am intentionally ignoring the discrepancy between his writing and well-documented details of his actual teaching.
“What one would learn to play finely must be below the mechanical powers of the pupil.”
on teaching note-reading: “Before that [learning to read music], we have a great deal to do that is interesting and agreeable. I keep constantly in view the formation of a good technique; but I do not make piano-playing distasteful to the pupil by urging her to a useless and senseless mechanical “practising.” I may perhaps teach the treble notes after the first six months or after sixty or eighty lessons, but I teach them in my own peculiar way, so that the pupil’s mind may be kept constantly active. [Before learning to read music] I teach them to play fifty or sixty little pieces, which I have written for this purpose. They are short, rhythmically balanced, agreeable, and striking to the ear, and aim to develop gradually an increased mechanical skill. I require them to be learned by heart, and often to be transposed into other keys; in which way the memory, which is indispensable for piano playing, is unconsciously greatly increased. They must be learned perfectly and played well, often, according to the capacity of the pupil, even finely; in strict time (counting aloud is seldom necessary) and without stumbling or hesitating; first slowly, then fast, faster, slow again, staccato, legato, piano, forte, crescendo, diminuendo, &c. […] The knowledge of the notes cannot afford a proper basis, except in so far as it is of service in the execution of a piece. Of what use are the notes to a singer, if he has no attack, and does not understand the management of the voice? of what use to the piano-learner, if he has no touch, no tone on the piano-forte. Is this to be acquired by playing the notes?”
on teaching scales: “The pupil may gradually acquire the habit of practising them [hands] together later; but it is not desirable to insist on this too early, for in playing the scales with both hands together the weakness of the fourth finger is concealed, and the attention distracted from the feeble tones, and the result is an unequal and poor scale.”
“I consider it very important not to try to cram the child’s memory with the teacher’s wisdom (as is often done in a crude and harsh way); but I endeavor to excite the pupil’s mind, to interest it, and to let it develop itself, and not to degrade it to a mere machine.”
“It is advantageous and psychologically correct to touch occasionally, in passing, upon points which will be more thoroughly taught later. It excites the interest of the pupil. Thus the customary technical terms are sometimes made use of beforehand, and a needful, cursory explanation given of them.”
on re-training an older student: “I shall, in the first place, endeavor to improve your touch, which is too thin, feeble, and incorrect; which makes too much unnecessary movement, and tries to produce the tone in the air, instead of drawing it out with the keys. […] I will employ […] short exercises […], and shall require them to be transposed into various keys, and played without notes, in order that you may give your whole attention to your hands and fingers. Above all things, I wish you to observe how I try to bring out from the piano the most beautiful possible tone, with a quiet movement of the fingers and a correct position of the hand; without an uneasy jerking of the arm, and with ease, lightness, and sureness. [..] I wish you, for the present, not to practise any pieces or exercises except in my presence, until a better touch has been thoroughly established. You must also give up entirely, for a time, playing your previous pieces; for they would give you opportunity to fall again into your faulty mode of playing.” (Hello, Barbara Lister-Sink!)
Michael Ende “Momo” . A delightful fairy tale about children for grown-ups – perhaps similar to R. Schumann’s Kinderszenen or Album fur die Jugend which were written for adults, reminiscing about childhood. Children may enjoy the story but would miss the many subtle details. Originally in German, it is difficult to find a *good* English translation / edition. Newer editions try to update story details, essentially altering the story. The best edition is the one from 1984, translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn.
V. E. Schwab “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” . Wow. What a story! Enthralling, captivating, different. Once I was 100 pages from the end, I kept reading WAY past midnight because I just couldn’t put the book down until it was finished. It is pretty impossible to fit this novel into one genre: it’s a bit of a mystery but not in a who-done-it way, more in the sense of “mysterious”. It is historical (though I could have done without the Beethoven reference), it is romantic and a love story but not sappy, a thriller but not dark (though it certainly has its very dark moments), it is an epic fantasy.
Konrad Wolff “Schnabel’s Interpretation of Piano Music” . Not intended to be a how-to manual, it is an account of Konrad Wolff’s observations of his teacher’s teaching. In the preface, Alfred Brendel advises a “willingness to examine Schnabel’s guidelines with a grain of skepticism, instead of misunderstanding them to be dogmatic rules.”
Dan Rather “What Unites Us” . Eloquent, captivating, educating – he’s been around for a while and can, from personal experience, compare today’s happenings with those from decades ago. He talks about progress, but also where he still sees room for improvement.
Oliver Sachs “Gratitude” . Four essays, written over the last two years of his life. In these essays, he “faces aging, illness, and death with remarkable grace and clarity”. I find it astounding that he can do that without moralizing, without fake cheerfulness, without “dismissing the frailties of body and mind” that may come with old age. The essays are honest, and a bit raw at times. I have always loved his eloquence. He has a way with words …
John Pavlovitz “A Bigger Table” . Provocative, in the best possible way.
“Einfach Midori” . Autobiographie (Second Edition) . I was thrilled to find this book online but astonished that it was not published in English, especially since Midori herself wrote the book in American English (translated by Susanne Van Volxem). An explanation may be found in Kerstin Wartberg’s review of this book: “[…] Anyone permanently working as hard as this and at the highest standard will arouse envy. Midori’s own training at the Juilliard School New York was affected thereby. Regrettably, several passages of this autobiography cast a slight shadow on the otherwise brilliant image of the famous violin professor Dorothy DeLay as well as on the conditions at the Juilliard School of that time. This book (first published in 2004) was until now barred from being published in English, possibly as a result of those conditions. All rights for the book are available, except for the Japanese and English languages.”
I wanted to like this book but I found myself getting depressed at the many many uncountably many bad things that happened to her in her childhood. She neither dwells on them nor is she asking for sympathy, she just lists bad thing after bad thing after hardship (with a few, very few, positive things here and there), and – after a while it gets old. I am now up to her mid-teenage years, and things seem to improve.
Bunny Guinness “H.R.H. The Prince of Wales . Highgrove, An English Country Garden” . This is a constant companion. From the jacket: “This book presents a ‘personal tour’ through each of the seasons, during which HRH The Prince of Wales and Bunny Guinness describe the thinking behind the planting and discuss mistakes, triumphs, and future plans.” The book is divided into twelve chapters for the twelve months, and includes detailed plant listings and more information at the end. The photographs are stunning, and the text so very informative, it feels like I am sitting down, in that garden, and looking at everything, discovering things I might not have seen without my attention being directed toward them. This is also the book where I learned about comfrey and its use in the kitchen garden.
Michael J. Gelb “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci” . I had heard of this book but never read it. Recently, I came across it watching a movie (“The Italian Job”) where one of the characters is briefly shown reading it, with the cover visible just long enough for me to catch the title. I was intrigued, bought it on Amazon, and am now enjoying it. Lots of information and insight.
Robert M. Edsel “The Monuments Men” . Published in 2009, made into a movie in 2014, this is a compelling and at times not easy to read story. The extent of Hitler’s intent to destroy – people, monuments, books, paintings, sculptures, anything that didn’t “fit” – is hard to grasp. And while it is a well-known fact that he stole priceless and irreplaceable works of art, stole from museums, from private people, Jews mostly, with the goal to eventually display them in his “Führer Museum” – the number of works of art he stole is mind-boggling. Awaiting completion of the museum, these works of art were hidden, with Hitler’s directive that if he were to be captured or killed, everything was to be destroyed. The “Monuments Men” were in charge of finding these cultural treasures before anything (worse) could happen to them.
David Epstein “Range” Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World . It is a very slippery slope to generalize / advocate that generalists triumph in a specialized world. People are different. Some have broad interests, others have a very narrow focus, and I want a world where both kinds get to live to their fullest potential, without being told that they are “too focused on – obsessed with – that one thing” or on the other hand “not focused enough on that one thing”.
Valerie Jarrett “Finding My Voice” . I haven’t finished Michelle Obama’s book but was intrigued by this newly published autobiography by one of the names I recognized from Michelle Obama’s story. There are so many parallels between the two books – strong emphasis on at one point being professionally highly successful but privately, personally, unhappy, unfulfilled, struggling to “find one’s voice” and more – it is hard not to feel like Ms. Jarrett modeled her book awfully much after “Becoming Michelle Obama”.
Michelle Obama “Becoming” . Of course, the way it is presented on the book cover, it reads “Becoming Michelle Obama”. Absolutely deserving of its popularity! There is nothing not to love about this book: the story of course, but also the many many personal details that somehow never seem to bog things down, the writing style, and – important to this reader who is sensitive to how things feel under her fingers: the smoothness of the paper.
Simon Winchester “The Perfectionists – How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World” . Reminiscent of Steven Johnson’s research into relevant but forgotten history, and equally enjoyable. He’s not afraid of long sentences: “The technique had an immediate cascade effect very much more profound than those he ever imagined, and of greater long-term importance, I would argue, than the much more famed legacies of his friend and rival Abraham Darby III, who threw up the still-standing great Iron Bridge of Coalbrookdale that attracts tourist millions still today, and is regarded by most modern Britons as the Industrial Revolution’s most potent and recognizable symbol.”
Jane Austen “Pride and Prejudice” . Reading this for the first time ever, I’m struggling a bit with the 200 yr-old writing style, and trying to keep track of all the different characters. I will probably enjoy this more when I read it the second time = when I know who’s who and where the story is going. – updated a couple weeks later: once I got the hang of it, learning who’s who, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Alan Walker “Fryderyk Chopin, A Life and Times” . I am enjoying this immensely. The author manages to marry an insane amount of research and a very readable writing style. While the book is organized chronologically, one does not necessarily have to read it from beginning to end. Every time I open the book, even randomly anywhere, I am again pulled into the story, the history, finding it hard to put the book down. (How’s that for an excuse for not practicing? …) At nearly 700 pages, this is an ongoing project …
Agatha Christie “Murder on the Orient Express” . No movie can ever do justice to a book – there is simply not enough time in a movie to cover all the details, to slowly develop a story. I therefore enjoyed reading the book, after having seen the movie. Agatha Christie is a master at presenting the different characters, but I still appreciated an overview of the characters at the beginning of the book, and especially a diagram of the carriage, showing which character was in which compartment – since this is an important part of the story.
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