I was shocked to see that this book, published a year and a half ago, has so few ratings/reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. This book deserves to be read.
I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of memoirs, usually because I find that you need to be familiar with the writer to appreciate what has been important enough to them to write about it, and as of today, I only have one friend that I know well and who has written a memoir (see that review here). But there was something about this one that simply sounded appealing to me. I have an interest in music, and while I don’t play the mandolin myself, I can see this as an instrument that one of my sons would play if he could get his hands on one.
But this book is about more than just mandolin lessons. This is a book about art and pursuing one’s passion, and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed this so much.
Frances Taylor is a mandolin player and teacher in England, but wants to further her own knowledge and expertise with the instrument and finds a teacher in Italy who will take her on. This requires frequent trips forth and back, staying with new-found friends while in Italy, and the book is as much a commentary on this transient life as it is about learning the mandolin. It might seem strange to be a professional and still taking lessons, though of course a true professional is always trying to learn more and the true artist is always looking to stretch him/herself. Taylor comments on this: “It is strange being a professional player in one country one moment and a music student in another country the next.”
Even though Taylor is a professional, she still gets some of the nervous twinges when being tested, and allows some self-doubt in her own abilities (and even makes excuses when things don’t flow just right:)
To my horror, my feet do not touch the floor. I have been given a piano stall to sit on instead of a chair, but I do not feel able to adjust it. Under the beady eyes of the examiners, I start the music and immediately regret doing so.
Without proper contact between my feet and the floor, I am uncomfortable and unable to support the mandolin adequately. Worse still, I cannot establish a secure sense of pulse. I am unbalanced and insecure and the music reflects this. It is clumsy and awkward. I tense up and hit the strings too hard, which results in one of the A-strings becoming flat and making everything sound even more dreadful. I can’t think of a word to say in Italian when the music is finished. My mind is blank and confused.
I can’t speak to Frances Taylor’s music abilities … a CD with the book would be nice … but her writing is beautiful.
I am aware of the vast expanse of duck egg blue that is the sky. As the light changes and fades imperceptibly, I notice a slight bruising of purple-grey clouds. I love the quality of the light. Pale, creamy yellow light illuminates the grey clouds from behind, giving them a halo effect. Later, in the distance, I notice the naked trees seem to scratch the apricot sky. I love the desolate beauty of November and the weeks leading up first to Advent and then to Christmas.
And just when I wondered where this memoir was going … what was she going to get from this experience that makes it worth putting down in writing … she makes some wonderful observations about art, love, and life.
I can barely bring myself to speak of or write anything about these impending celebrations, since it seems an acknowledgement of my own mortality. I hadn’t realised that I am so old, that I am possibly halfway or further though my life. In my mind, I am still twenty.
The playing, the ability to express oneself, the creativity to arrange something, in this case notes or sounds, beautifully and in a pleasing manner, is something far more ephemeral. It is something spiritual.
I had always understood that love meant putting other people’s needs before your own. Now, I realise that it is impossible to put other people’s need before your own until you have first seen to your own needs. It is a paradox. Love is a paradox.
And because she writes it so well, we learn these things. Not because she tells us, but because she shows us. We have experienced the journey with her and come to learn the same things right alongside her.
This is just what a memoir should be. A journey that we can share, and something that offers us insight on things much grander than ourselves.
Looking for a good book? The Mandolin Lesson by Frances Taylor is a beautiful memoir about a woman, already an accomplished mandolin player, and her journey to become better in her art. It is worth reading. Click that button below to buy it now from Amazon. You won’t be disappointed!
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Mandolin Lesson
author: Frances Taylor
publisher: Troubador Publishing
paperback, 352 pages