Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Mozart Season

It’s so hard to describe that feeling of escape that you get when you really get sucked into reading a book, or writing a story, or when you’re completely focused on dancing and in your body, out of your head—it’s not even a feeling of escape, exactly, it’s a feeling of completely being there. I love Allegra’s description of practicing her violin:
I cleaned up the sandwich mess and went to the music room and practiced. I worked on Kreutzer no. 34, which is a good way to insult yourself if you haven’t worked on it lately. I played it for almost an hour. It can torture your fingers and it’s good for you.

It’s also very useful in distracting you from your problems, because you can’t even think about them while you’re playing it. Kind of like skiing: you keep your mind totally on what you’re doing and give your mental problems a rest. You keep your mind right where your body is. I don’t understand it all totally, but that’s what you do. You keep doing it till you get convinced.

And I love their family friend Deirdre’s explanation of what you have to do if you want to be your own kind of artist, or singer, or dancer, or violinist. I also love Deirdre. She’s one of the characters in this book who makes it more than a children’s book: the crazy family friend, Allegra’s mother’s friend since they were children, who’s gone through some rough times. Allegra’s father, anticipating her visit, says, “Only two more days till we get Deirdre’s Doldrums.” Allegra’s teenage brother says, “Deirdre’s Delirium is more like it.”

But Allegra is at an age when she can appreciate and connect with Deirdre in a different way than ever before. Twelve is like that. They also make a connection through their relationship to music and its importance to them. Deirdre says:
Allegra, here's something about doing music--or painting a picture or anything. When you're doing it, you have to remember everything you've ever learned, and simultaneously forget all of it and do something totally new. Because if you do the first part and not the second, you're making music or art just like everybody else's. It's not your own.

She goes on to explain,
When I lived in Boston, I used to watch the Celtics a lot. They do the same exact thing--when they're at their best. It's the same with your Trail Blazers in Portland. You watch one of those beautiful shots go exploding down through the basket and that's what's going on. That guy has in his memory every basket he's ever shot--and at the same instant he's making up a new one. The divine inspiration of the NBA.

I can't put all the gems in this book into this entry. Anyway, they're better when you read them in the context of it. Allegra and Deirdre make music in the Rose Garden in Washington Park--a kind of music that isn't like their usual violin playing and opera singing. Allegra starts going for late-night bike rides through Laurelhurst Park, until a neighbor sees her and tells on her. She meets a dancer and finds something he's lost. Her best friends come home from their summer camps and visits to family and that good kind of friendship is as essential to this novel as Allegra's twelve-year-old relationships with her mother and father and teenage brother, and their relationships with each other. Allegra's grandmother sends her something very important. And the music is through all of it: free concerts in Laurelhurst Park and Pioneer Square, the gorge, and of course in the music room.

Good novels about art and making art are so few and far between. Novels about children and childhood and the revelations of growing up are all over the place. But those that both children and adults should read, and return to later for the new insights that were there the first time but were buried under the first insights--those novels are much more rare. The Mozart Summer is both, and I had so much fun reading it for the first time. I stopped myself from starting over again at the beginning, immediately. It'll be even better next time if I wait first.

(And did I mention it's set in Portland? So I had that other pleasure of the real picture in my head, a version of the true picture.)

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