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!