Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004

I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


****How Can We Keep From Singing

Music and the Passionate Life

by Joan Oliver Goldsmith

Reviewed December 20, 2004.
W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2001.  223 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #12, Personal Stories and Reflections

I found this book not long before joining the Rheinland-Pfalz International Choir.  I used to sing in college and found a choir to sing with just before we moved away from Los Angeles.  It’s been such a joy to find a choir to sing with again.

How Can We Keep From Singing is written by a professional singer turned volunteer, who understands the joy of amateurs making music together.  Over twenty million Americans sing publicly in a choir or chorus, and this book meditates on many different aspects of the joy singing brings and how making music is a metaphor for life itself.

I read this book slowly, to savor it a little bit at a time.  It was nice to come home from choir and relax over a chapter about singing before going to bed.

Joan Oliver Goldsmith talks about “the invisible instrument we all carry inside—a creative spirit that must be expressed if the soul is not to die a slow, bleak death.

“If you find yourself pulled beyond all practicality toward doing something—writing poetry, building a business, restoring old cars, planting a secret garden; if at four in the morning the right word comes to you, the perfect flower to plant in that particular spot—you are playing your invisible instrument.”

“Then you know again creation’s assignment:  to learn the notes, to find your music.  The invisible instrument is the one instrument we must all learn to play.”

I like the chapter where she learned that she needed to switch to singing alto, and also learned about doing activities that are right for her.  “I’ve learned that singing is part of my life’s tessitura.  If I ignore it, a certain spiritual crankiness sets in, like the restlessness my body feels if I neglect to exercise it.”  That’s what I learned about reading when I stopped reading for pleasure in college because I didn’t have time.  I couldn’t keep that up for long.  Now I’m finding how much happier I am with some singing in my life.

“So much of what we perceive as failure is really just being in the wrong tessitura, struggling for the notes we ‘ought’ to be able to sing, or stubbornly holding on to a way of life that no longer fits.”

Another good chapter is about wrong notes.  “In this life we make the best mistakes we know how to make.  Then, with any luck, we go out and make new ones.  I don’t make mistakes when I watch TV or take a walk.  These activities are pleasant, restful.  But I could not make a life of them.  After all, the easiest way to avoid wrong notes is to never open your mouth and sing.  What a mistake that would be.”

Here are some musings to smile over and make you think about the music of your own life.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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