The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari L. Goldman

The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari L. GoldmanThe Late Starters Orchestra by Ari L. Goldman
Published by Algonquin Books on June 10, 2014
Genres: Biography & Memoir, Music
Pages: 304
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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In a cluttered room in an abandoned coat factory in lower Manhattan, a group of musicians comes together each week to make music. Some are old, some are young, all have come late to music or come back to it after a long absence. This is the Late Starters Orchestra--the bona fide amateur string orchestra where Ari Goldman pursues his lifelong dream of playing the cello.
Goldman hadn’t seriously picked up his cello in twenty-five years, but the Late Starters (its motto, If you think you can play, you can) seemed just the right orchestra for this music lover whose busy life had always gotten in the way of its pursuit.
In The Late Starters Orchestra, Goldman takes us along to LSO rehearsals and lets us sit in on his son’s Suzuki lessons, where we find out that children do indeed learn differently from adults. He explores history’s greatest cellists and also attempts to understand what motivates his fellow late starters, amateurs all, whose quest is for joy, not greatness. And when Goldman commits to playing at his upcoming birthday party we wonder with him whether he’ll be good enough to perform in public. To the rescue comes the ghost of Goldman’s first cello teacher, the wise and eccentric Mr. J, who continues to inspire and guide him--about music and more--through this well-tuned journey.
With enchanting illustrations by Eric Hanson, The Late Starters Orchestra is about teachers and students, fathers and sons, courage and creativity, individual perseverance and the power of community. And Ari Goldman has a message for anyone who has ever had a dream deferred: it’s never too late to find happiness on one’s own terms.


Ari Goldman decides to return to the cello after a twenty-five year hiatus. He starts out in his son’s youth orchestra, and eventually learns of and joins the New York Late-Starters String Orchestra, an amateur adult orchestra which accepts beginners on up.

Goldman shares his musical journey in his book The Late Starters Orchestra. Mostly a memoir, it also includes the science of learning music (especially as an adult vs. as a child), music history, music appreciation, and vignettes of some of the other people he meets in the world of recreational music making.

His story is a familiar one to me. Most of my adult music students have returned to their instruments after a long hiatus. A few of them are beginning for the first time. I enjoyed reading this from the perspectives of someone who teaches adult music students privately and as someone who has taken up an instrument (harp) as an adult. I loved hearing about some of the ways playing classical music is being made available to everyone, and about the bonds formed through playing with others. (And I had no idea Alexander McCall Smith helped found The Really Terrible Orchestra!)

The Late Starters Orchestra reads like a fantastic mix of Stacy Horn’s Imperfect Harmony (but for instrumentalists) and Joanne Lipman & Melanie Kupchynsky’s Strings Attached. Goldman has a wonderfully conversational writing style. His honest ruminations about his own musical ability, his struggle to find the discipline required to improve, and his search to figure out where music making belongs in his life will resonate with anyone who once played, dreams of playing, or currently plays an instrument purely for his or her own enjoyment.

Side note: Throughout the book (but mostly toward the end) Goldman refers to a famous “Bach” minuet, and later includes an image of the first line. This piece was determined decades ago to be by composer/organist Christian Petzold. Most lesson and repertoire books have corrected this over the years, but I believe the Suzuki books, which Goldman used, may still bear Bach’s name. The music teacher in me couldn’t let that slide!