An engaging memoir sketches the rediscovery of a lapsed musical passion
Robin Marantz Henig
The Late Starters Orchestra
by Ari L. Goldman
$23.95 List Price
If I chose to look at my life through a particularly self-critical lens, my personal narrative would boil down to the story of a woman who spent her entire adulthood trying to get good at something, anything. Beginning in my twenties and with no noticeable talent besides writing, I took classes in a string of leisure-time activities that I hoped would turn into something to love. I have no natural grace, but I tried clogging, then folk dancing, then swing dancing, then tap. I’m not especially artistic, but I took pottery classes and quilting classes. I tried learning Spanish, I tried learning Italian, and I got nowhere with either. And even though I’ve never been especially musical—something made painfully clear during six years of piano lessons as a child—I tried, on and off, starting on my thirtieth birthday, to learn how to play the cello.
In this long, sorry litany, the thing that probably bugs me the most is my failure with the cello. When I started, I already felt too old, as if I had missed my chance ever to get good at it. (In a way I was right; studies show that truly proficient string musicians should start lessons before age seven.) But sometimes I would play a note, or even a whole phrase, with true resonance, and I have to admit it was thrilling. For a while that occasional thrill was enough, sustaining me through the babyish melodies I was given to play, melodies that were so embarrassing I would only practice behind closed doors. I got better, but slowly, and when I was pregnant with my second child and my belly got in the way of the bowing, I quit.