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The remarkable odyssey of a classical guitar prodigy who abandons his beloved instrument in defeat at the age of twenty-five, but comes back to it years later with a new kind of passion. With insight and humor, Glenn Kurtz takes us from his first lessons at a small Long Island guitar school at the age of eight, to a national television appearance backing jazz legend Dizzy G The remarkable odyssey of a classical guitar prodigy who abandons his beloved instrument in defeat at the age of twenty-five, but comes back to it years later with a new kind of passion. With insight and humor, Glenn Kurtz takes us from his first lessons at a small Long Island guitar school at the age of eight, to a national television appearance backing jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, to his acceptance at the elite New England Conservatory of Music. He makes bittersweet and vivid a young man’s struggle to forge an artist’s life—and to become the next Segovia. And we see him after graduation, pursuing a solo career in Vienna but realizing that he has neither the ego nor the talent required to succeed at the upper reaches of the world of classical guitar—and giving up the instrument, and his dream, entirely. Or so he thought. For, returning to the guitar, Kurtz weaves into the larger narrative the rich experience of a single practice session, demonstrating how practicing—the rigor, attention, and commitment it requires—becomes its own reward, an almost spiritual experience that redefines the meaning of “success.” Along the way, he traces the evolution of the guitar and reminds us why it has retained its singular popularity through the ages. Complete with a guide to selected musical recordings and methods, Practicing takes us on a revelatory, inspiring journey: a love affair with music.


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The remarkable odyssey of a classical guitar prodigy who abandons his beloved instrument in defeat at the age of twenty-five, but comes back to it years later with a new kind of passion. With insight and humor, Glenn Kurtz takes us from his first lessons at a small Long Island guitar school at the age of eight, to a national television appearance backing jazz legend Dizzy G The remarkable odyssey of a classical guitar prodigy who abandons his beloved instrument in defeat at the age of twenty-five, but comes back to it years later with a new kind of passion. With insight and humor, Glenn Kurtz takes us from his first lessons at a small Long Island guitar school at the age of eight, to a national television appearance backing jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, to his acceptance at the elite New England Conservatory of Music. He makes bittersweet and vivid a young man’s struggle to forge an artist’s life—and to become the next Segovia. And we see him after graduation, pursuing a solo career in Vienna but realizing that he has neither the ego nor the talent required to succeed at the upper reaches of the world of classical guitar—and giving up the instrument, and his dream, entirely. Or so he thought. For, returning to the guitar, Kurtz weaves into the larger narrative the rich experience of a single practice session, demonstrating how practicing—the rigor, attention, and commitment it requires—becomes its own reward, an almost spiritual experience that redefines the meaning of “success.” Along the way, he traces the evolution of the guitar and reminds us why it has retained its singular popularity through the ages. Complete with a guide to selected musical recordings and methods, Practicing takes us on a revelatory, inspiring journey: a love affair with music.

30 review for Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    George Berguño

    In the late nineteen-eighties I was a performing guitarist on the London jazz circuit. Over a period of six years, I gave over 300 performances on my nylon-stringed Yoshima. During that time I had the privilege of playing with some extraordinarily talented musicians; but, above all, I found playing solo the most thrilling, most nerve-wracking experience. Then, all at once, I gave it all up to pursue a career in academia. My beautiful (but much-scratched) guitar lay dormant in its case for 22 yea In the late nineteen-eighties I was a performing guitarist on the London jazz circuit. Over a period of six years, I gave over 300 performances on my nylon-stringed Yoshima. During that time I had the privilege of playing with some extraordinarily talented musicians; but, above all, I found playing solo the most thrilling, most nerve-wracking experience. Then, all at once, I gave it all up to pursue a career in academia. My beautiful (but much-scratched) guitar lay dormant in its case for 22 years. During that time I tried to work out why I couldn’t play any more, not even for myself. I also made attempts to return to practicing. But at both these tasks I failed absolutely, until, that is, I read Glenn Kurtz’s remarkable story. Practicing is a memoir told in the form of a practice session, with endless digressions on the history of the guitar, and the lives of famous classical performers such as Sor, Giuliani, Barrios Mangoré, and Segovia. But the heart of the matter is the story of the how the author’s all-consuming love for music is side-tracked by his ambition to become a performing artist on the world stage. We follow Glenn Kurtz’s discovery of the guitar at a young age, his growing love for music, his meeting with Dizzy Gillespie and, later, his struggles at the New England Conservatory to perfect his technique, to build a repertoire, and to master the art of performance. We follow him all the way to Vienna, where he boldly experiments with musical form, and manages to make a living as a working musician. Then, one day, after a gig that brings the audience to its feet, he gives up playing for twenty years. Practicing is a poignant study of loss, disappointment and love regained; interspersed with some thought provoking reflections on the nature of guitar practice. Of course, this is a book written by a musician for musicians, so it may not appeal to every reader. But in my case, the author’s reflections on the unique qualities of the guitar broke the spell of my musical inertia, and after an extraordinarily long lapse, I returned to practicing for myself. I realize now that the mistake I made all those years ago was to have replaced my love of music with a need to be recognized as a musician. It is perhaps for that reason that, instead of playing jazz, I have gone back to basics; playing scales, arpeggios, studies, and the simplest pieces by Dowland and Tárrega. I realize also that it is a grave mistake to believe that it is the professional performer who is most fulfilled by music. I am convinced that it is the humble amateur who gets the greatest pleasure. Now I’m not saying that my story is similar to Glenn Kurtz’s. And I’m not saying that I agree with all of his reflections. But I am saying that Practicing is an astonishingly beautiful, heart-breaking book; a book that has made a profound and lasting impression on me; a book I will surely read again in future.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    I actually read this book in one fell swoop yesterday, but I am still processing and may reread. I highly recommend this book to people who were passionate about something (be it art, sports, science, etc.) in their teens or before and are presently uncertain how they feel about that old passion. The book is by the author who was quite a talented guitarist but after an uncertain period post conservatory quit playing for at least 10 years and then started playing again. His perspactive and goals I actually read this book in one fell swoop yesterday, but I am still processing and may reread. I highly recommend this book to people who were passionate about something (be it art, sports, science, etc.) in their teens or before and are presently uncertain how they feel about that old passion. The book is by the author who was quite a talented guitarist but after an uncertain period post conservatory quit playing for at least 10 years and then started playing again. His perspactive and goals now versus then.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

    Author Glenn Kurtz was a child prodigy on the guitar, who dreamed of becoming the next Segovia. He found remarkable success in his youth, appearing on national television with Dizzy Gillespie, and gaining entrance to the New England Conservatory of Music. Upon graduation, he moved to Europe in pursuit of a career as a soloist. He easily found work as a musician for weddings and parties, but his goal of a having serious solo career soon began to evaporate. Jobs were scarce, and Kurtz was ultimate Author Glenn Kurtz was a child prodigy on the guitar, who dreamed of becoming the next Segovia. He found remarkable success in his youth, appearing on national television with Dizzy Gillespie, and gaining entrance to the New England Conservatory of Music. Upon graduation, he moved to Europe in pursuit of a career as a soloist. He easily found work as a musician for weddings and parties, but his goal of a having serious solo career soon began to evaporate. Jobs were scarce, and Kurtz was ultimately stymied by the harsh distinction between serious talent and unparalleled gifts. Before long, he abandoned his instrument altogether. Some ten years later, Kurtz again picked up the guitar and gradually resumed practice. He no longer aspired to a performance career (having in the meantime obtained a Ph.D. in comparative literature), and he accepted the fact that he would probably never again attain the level of skill that he had once displayed. But in rediscovering his love of the instrument, Kurtz came to realize that practicing it could produce its own rewards. Practicing is a quiet meditation that addresses the gaps between our expectations and our achievements, the distinction between false goals and true ones, and the joy of finding satisfaction in one's own efforts and private accomplishments independently of what any external acclaim might bring. Accordingly, this engaging book is not just about the guitar; it's also a serious reflection on how to construct a life.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Gutterman

    The author is an amateur classical guitarist living in San Francisco, working in a field unrelated to his pursuit of music (aside from publishing this book, I suppose). This reader is an amateur classical guitarist living in San Francisco, working in a field unrelated to his pursuit of music (as yet unpublished). So this was almost suspiciously up my alley. Practicing, as a whole, is a bit scattered, and I had trouble seeing the larger arc of the book while I was reading it. While I enjoyed his The author is an amateur classical guitarist living in San Francisco, working in a field unrelated to his pursuit of music (aside from publishing this book, I suppose). This reader is an amateur classical guitarist living in San Francisco, working in a field unrelated to his pursuit of music (as yet unpublished). So this was almost suspiciously up my alley. Practicing, as a whole, is a bit scattered, and I had trouble seeing the larger arc of the book while I was reading it. While I enjoyed his personal story of love, loss, and return to the guitar, the real value was Kurtz's dead-on descriptions and insights into the act of daily practice. The routine and more importantly, the mental conflict of going about it when your signs of improvement can be very difficult to see. He says the thing your teachers rarely say: that practicing every single day means giving yourself a chance to fail and become dispirited every single day. Worth reading for anyone with a nagging need to sit by themselves and, y'know dude, just woodshed it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    H

    "It doesn't need to be captured, just released." (101) "Aut Caesar aut nihil!" -Leopold to Wolfgang Mozart vibrational coupling: one body exciting the other

  6. 5 out of 5

    dv

    An effective tour into dedication, expectations, delusions and rebirth. A very special book, which mixes a personal experience with the history and role of a very special instrument. A must read for every musician and for every learner.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Irwan

    Inspiring, full of insights and reflections on playing and life itself.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ravenness Ravenous

    Practicing is the story of a prodigy gone prodigal. Practicing is the account of a child prodigy who dreamed of becoming the next Segovia but quit guitar only to return to the instrument years later. "Boo hoo, oh whoa is me, I'm not the next Segovia," was my impression while I read Practicing. Ironically, Kurtz should be happy he did not become the next Segovia; for while he is praised for bringing knowledge of the classical guitar to the masses, Segovia is the most mocked and ridiculed player p Practicing is the story of a prodigy gone prodigal. Practicing is the account of a child prodigy who dreamed of becoming the next Segovia but quit guitar only to return to the instrument years later. "Boo hoo, oh whoa is me, I'm not the next Segovia," was my impression while I read Practicing. Ironically, Kurtz should be happy he did not become the next Segovia; for while he is praised for bringing knowledge of the classical guitar to the masses, Segovia is the most mocked and ridiculed player player of guitar history. (That's not in the book. Please, someone write a book called, "On Segovia: How not to Phrase.") I guess Kurtz never realized that while he was surrounded by guitar prodigies, most of them probably played better than Segovia. And, I suppose Kurtz is and should be happy practicing every Guiliani 120 Studies a week. But who wouldn't be happy, after lifetime achievements of academic and professional success in literature? So I will admit with guilt, I like the book in an academic way. Although forcefully interpolated against gooey dramatizations of the artist's young musical life, I did appreciate the references to guitar history. The book is worth reading just for the historical references. Plus, Kurtz's description of the inner struggle of practicing resonated with me. However, If you come from the guitar school of having no access to classical guitar education as a child, you will be especially annoyed by Kurtz's account in the fact that he quit despite his blessed luxury of a coveted childhood education. It is amazing that a person with enough knowledge of classical guitar to write a book such as Practicing was a quitter. The trite lesson the book unintentionally teaches is: I can't believe someone who dreamed of being the next Segovia turned out to be smart enough to get a PhD. It is like a teenager who dreams of being the Axle Rose turning out to be a neuroscientist. Just remember kids, if the guitar doesn't work out, you can always go get your PhD...but you'll regret it! (If you give up, it isn't because it "didn't work out", it is because you choose to quit!) I suppose that the book does make one other glorious point: if you quit, you can start again and learn a better attitude toward the whole ironic goal of music: the victory of practice.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joe Feeney

    Warning: mild musing on what exactly an ass hat is. This one went straight to my abandoned shelf. I really thought that this book would have been in my wheel house. Excellent musician from a young age loses his passion for music when he can't, and never will be the next Segovia / Julian Breme, struggles to find an identity for himself outside of music, and eventually returns to his once passion. It isn't quite the same, but neither is he. I was hoping to find more of myself in here rather than a r Warning: mild musing on what exactly an ass hat is. This one went straight to my abandoned shelf. I really thought that this book would have been in my wheel house. Excellent musician from a young age loses his passion for music when he can't, and never will be the next Segovia / Julian Breme, struggles to find an identity for himself outside of music, and eventually returns to his once passion. It isn't quite the same, but neither is he. I was hoping to find more of myself in here rather than a reading about a pretentious ass hat (is that an actual hat made out of ass or the person is hat that goes on someone's ass? how does this fit in with ass-less chaps? is it really an insult to call someone a hat when someone else has to do the wearing? isn't the ass hat wearer the one who looks the fool?) who couldn't understand why normal (read: simple) people just "don't get music in the same way I do" and they can't "see the beauty" in all the harmonies, melodies, and callbacks. The author seemed pretty preoccupied with prestige, climbing the ladder of music through popular, jazz, and eventually landing in classical. As if music is invalidated if it isn't steeped in centuries of euro-centric tradition it is invalidated. That's not my bag, but, unfortunately, it's an opinion that can be readily found in the upper echelons of the music community (Pat Metheny and Wynton Marsalis come to mind from Jazz). The first chapter mainly consisted of the author quoting other, more eloquent writers / musicians on the nature of music and the despair of practice. Some choice quotes (if only we had a way of sharing these kindle quotes...): - "For the listener, Segovia says, music might seem effortless or divine. But for the musician it is the product of supreme effort and devotion, the feast at the of the season." - "it is impossible to feign mastery of an instrument, however skillful the impostor may be." - On practicing, "every day I collide with my limits, the constraints of my hands, my instrument, and my imagination" The second chapter lost me as he complained about his parents not understanding the beauty of Beethoven. They were clearly middle class and educated, and maybe they were preoccupied with putting a fucking roof over your head and sending you to a conservatory.

  10. 5 out of 5

    D2MillerGR

    This is a unique, insightful, and well written autobiography chronicling a talented guitarist's journey from prodigy to music academe and to life beyond. While especially meaningful for those who've played a musical instrument, the book is still pertinent for anyone who has perused a discipline where few advance to a career, whether it be fine-arts, music, acting, writing, etc. I had expected, based on the title, more about his return to music but the majority of of the book covers his time stud This is a unique, insightful, and well written autobiography chronicling a talented guitarist's journey from prodigy to music academe and to life beyond. While especially meaningful for those who've played a musical instrument, the book is still pertinent for anyone who has perused a discipline where few advance to a career, whether it be fine-arts, music, acting, writing, etc. I had expected, based on the title, more about his return to music but the majority of of the book covers his time studying music. I forgive that since he does such an outstanding job of capturing a subject that is widely experienced but rarely discussed. The writing is like a good piece of music, well thought out, passionate, and gracefully concise, and most importantly a welcome counter-point to the Disney fantasy that if the most meager of us just tries really hard we'll always win the prize. One thing I had to get by is that the writer is incredibly talented and it's easy to think, "what do you have to complain about?" However, the book is welcome tonic whether one struggled with a difficult Bach transcription or Aura Lee. As for stars, more like a 4.5 or even 5 but there's something poetic about giving it a four which is in spirit with the topic.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Janie

    - Endnotes galore! It's carefully referenced and notated, including a suggested listening section (compiled from recording artists or pieces he talks about in the book). - Transiently sublime, undercurrents of bleak. I feel he's sometimes too depressive, and too dismissive of the way his younger self approached his dreams — nevertheless, he works with a great grief and I appreciate that he has chosen to tell his story and risk over-simplifying it, risk an audience misinterpreting it, risk owning - Endnotes galore! It's carefully referenced and notated, including a suggested listening section (compiled from recording artists or pieces he talks about in the book). - Transiently sublime, undercurrents of bleak. I feel he's sometimes too depressive, and too dismissive of the way his younger self approached his dreams — nevertheless, he works with a great grief and I appreciate that he has chosen to tell his story and risk over-simplifying it, risk an audience misinterpreting it, risk owning — releasing — an interpretation he will later grow away from; I appreciate deeply that it has taken him practice to forgive himself for working in a medium that falls short of what he wants to express.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    To like this book, I think there are a few things to consider. I think you need to love music and also love to know about the artist's process. You also need to want to learn a bit about the history of music if you don't already know it. The author flips back and forth between process and history. At first I found it difficult to make the mental shift. It seemed like just when I was really getting into the process, he would go on for awhile about musical history. However, I got used to it, and o To like this book, I think there are a few things to consider. I think you need to love music and also love to know about the artist's process. You also need to want to learn a bit about the history of music if you don't already know it. The author flips back and forth between process and history. At first I found it difficult to make the mental shift. It seemed like just when I was really getting into the process, he would go on for awhile about musical history. However, I got used to it, and overall felt the book was great! I especially thought the last quarter of the book was well done. I remember more from it and the insights about which he wrote.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Striving for your art, becoming disillusioned with it, and then rediscovering it later with different meaning. As a musician and programmer, this story resonated with me, but it also made me at risk of blowing a ton of money on more classical recordings.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Anthony

    This book really helped me understand the mind of a classical musician more than anything else. As a guy who went to college for a jazz performance degree, and was surrounded by those in the classical program, I always felt as if we were talking past each other when I had a few discussion on music, the art of practicing, and the nature of art and the human condition. I kept wanting to reach into the book, grab Glenn and give him a shake and say, no no no, that is not what it is about you are wast This book really helped me understand the mind of a classical musician more than anything else. As a guy who went to college for a jazz performance degree, and was surrounded by those in the classical program, I always felt as if we were talking past each other when I had a few discussion on music, the art of practicing, and the nature of art and the human condition. I kept wanting to reach into the book, grab Glenn and give him a shake and say, no no no, that is not what it is about you are wasting your energy and time focusing on that. What is fascinating is at the end he admits that he focused on the wrong things, and some of his teachers may have not directed him in the best way. I would say some of his teachers, he had a teacher that was trying to make him a musician but Glenn didn't get it at the time. I think one thing Glenn still does not get, even at the end of the book when he contemplates all that has happened, is that performing live, even if you were performing in a cafe as background music, is a form of practicing that can facilitate your growth, and that sitting in your room playing the same 25 pieces of music over and over and over again, is not the only way to improve as a player. In fact, after a certain point, it is detrimental. When I put the book down I shook my head and said "Glenn still doesne't get it" I found myself sympathizing, and recoiling in horror, often in this book. But like I said at the top, I think a big part of that is that Glen is from the classical word, and there are some big fundamental different world views that are going on there when it comes to the approach to not only the instrument, but music and life in general. In fact I could write a book about just that. Would I recommend this book? Yes, to a seasoned performer, not a teenager pursuing a future in music, this book will mess with their head in a bad way.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Troy Farlow

    This book - parts of what it teaches you and the history of the guitar and the research and knowledge - alllll better than One-Star - but it was a drag of a stop-wining-dude story that went on for 200 pages - and I'm a self-pronounced, complain-for-a-hobby type - so throwing myself under the bus - to show how much a true drag and depressing this book was. To the point of even: stop reading, you will suck the joy and optimism I have - will tinge my sincere interest and love I have for the guitar. This book - parts of what it teaches you and the history of the guitar and the research and knowledge - alllll better than One-Star - but it was a drag of a stop-wining-dude story that went on for 200 pages - and I'm a self-pronounced, complain-for-a-hobby type - so throwing myself under the bus - to show how much a true drag and depressing this book was. To the point of even: stop reading, you will suck the joy and optimism I have - will tinge my sincere interest and love I have for the guitar. I was glad this was over - and started, admittedly, scanning chunks from page 100 on - but eyes hit every page and every paragraph - and again, gems throughout (there's knowledge in this book, from this author - which he should be credited for), but for heaven's sake, I could never pull for this character (it's non-fiction, I know, not a novel)...but he story was just sad - and a happy ending I suppose - happy for him - but in the last ten pages and the other 200 pages insufferable. This book was horrible. An interesting life - an impressive story - one I'd be interested in - and admire - but the way it was told, the drag that it was over the medium of a book - this is a one-star book, that I was glad, sooooooooooo glad I finished. I wish Mr. Kurtz nothing but the best - and I hope and trust that he did find joy upon his return to his beloved craft - I am sincere in this wish - but dragging me through this (knowledgeable) train wreck , was just that, a long, not-musical, drag.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sdubby

    Good book. As a musician myself I related to some of the things he expressed and enjoyed reading about his path growing up wanting to be a profession musician. My only criticisms are that he sometimes gets a little too flowery and emotional when talking about playing the guitar, and there was one section that seemed to drag on with a history lesson of the guitar. Overall it was a good read and I enjoyed his commentary on musicianship, practicing, and the motivations behind why musicians make mus Good book. As a musician myself I related to some of the things he expressed and enjoyed reading about his path growing up wanting to be a profession musician. My only criticisms are that he sometimes gets a little too flowery and emotional when talking about playing the guitar, and there was one section that seemed to drag on with a history lesson of the guitar. Overall it was a good read and I enjoyed his commentary on musicianship, practicing, and the motivations behind why musicians make music.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jonghyun Byun

    Spending 15 years just in listening to music and now I am getting back to play it. This book gives a warm advice to me not to feel guilty or resentful about it. Also, here in Korea, many musicians are politically very sensitive and it's hard to find a place to bring all my heart in and this book also is a guidance how to set myself up re-starting music career.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Gürsu Altunkaya

    This book can help any musician, especially amateur musicians. It is the story of a musician's career up and downs, interspersed with the story of the guitar and the interpreters and composers who elevated it where it is in classical music today.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cal

    Glenn Kurtz is a talented author, and reading his book was an absolute pleasure. He has a gift for capturing all the subtleties of moments and sharing it with others. If you are or were a musician, this is a fantastic read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Sullivan

    It was somewhat interesting for the first quarter of the book or so, perhaps a third, but then it gets repetitive and boring, so much so that I couldn't finish it. I made several attempts to finish the book, but eventually it turned into pure obstinacy, rather than interest; time to abandon it. I'm not sure how many different ways there are to express frustration with the inability to exact with one's fingers what one's head and heart are imploring one to do, but Mr. Kurtz certainly makes a vali It was somewhat interesting for the first quarter of the book or so, perhaps a third, but then it gets repetitive and boring, so much so that I couldn't finish it. I made several attempts to finish the book, but eventually it turned into pure obstinacy, rather than interest; time to abandon it. I'm not sure how many different ways there are to express frustration with the inability to exact with one's fingers what one's head and heart are imploring one to do, but Mr. Kurtz certainly makes a valiant attempt to hit all of them. That in combination with the monotonous moaning about how the guitar isn't taken seriously as an instrument in the classical world (which, while being a shame, is in fact true), turned the book into a very tedious read. If the greatest players in history failed at bringing the classical guitar to the fore, what makes Mr. Kurtz think he can succeed? He doesn't really provide any arguments. And if that simply isn't the point, what makes him think that reading his lamentations over this would be interesting? In some places there is even an air of reverse-snobbery about it, though only just a tad, to be fair. The little historical anecdotes are nice – I learned a little bit more about what are considered the instrument's greatest players and composers. I even learned that Beethoven played and wrote for the mandolin, something I didn't know about my favorite of the classical composers. But for someone who plays and loves the guitar himself, and particularly, practicing, reading it turned into a chore. Lots of padding. He does a lot of talking about pretty much everything BUT practicing. Maybe if he'd touched on the mechanical aspects a bit more to balance things out. Or perhaps even better, if he wrote the book with a sense of humour, it would be easier for me to digest. Or maybe if he'd written it more anecdotally, to better suit its autobiographical nature. As a side note, it's somewhat interesting and a little disappointing that I am having trouble finding any sort of demonstration or history of his playing online. In some respects he talks a good game, but I want to hear him play. Sure, he's won some competitions, but if his first serious Conservatory teacher and even he himself managed to dismantle his playing in a matter of minutes, well then I seriously have to question the criteria for judging those competitions. Having said that, ultimately one doesn't have to be a good player to write a good book about getting there. As for the guitar itself, I really think he simply picked the wrong instrument, or the wrong style with that instrument. He has passion for it, and that's what matters most, but he yearns for the classical guitar to get the sort of recognition attributed to rock and jazz guitarists. It doesn't have the sense of danger to it. And Mr. Kurtz may counter with "well, why not?" the way he does in his book. Unfortunately, the answer to that is: it doesn't matter; what he seeks is determined by some unnamed cultural entity whose opinion he cannot sway, so why should he even care? Really best to just do what he loves with the guitar and enjoy it, and fuck all the rest. :) I don't think the author's failure is entirely his fault though. There is a good reason why he had trouble finding the more philosophical books about practicing that he sought: even to us musicians, unless you go into the most granular detail about a specific triumph or the excitement of discovery from a creative point-of-view while studying in a more playful manner, practicing itself is a pretty dull affair, and talking about it even moreso. I can see how this would be an interesting read for non-musicians, especially those who are closer to middle-aged or later and still wanting to pick up and learn an instrument; reading this book could give he or she something more palpable to experience and relate to, but it would be of a vicarious nature. I do sincerely hope that it would at least inspire those people to finally take that first step and take up music. As for readers that are musicians, I can't see it being a good fit for them, neither the dedicated nor the casual. The casual ones aren't overly interested in practicing, let alone reading about it, and the dedicated ones that do practice...well I can see them losing their patience with this book pretty quickly, as I have. In case anyone might be wondering if I missed the point of the book entirely, no, I got it, it's more of a philosophical journey of discovery, but I think he failed to make it truly compelling. So many books about the detailed mechanics of practicing really are boring, but I think he swung too far the other way. I do applaud you, Mr. Kurtz, for having made a better attempt at this sort of book than most.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dan Phillips

    Though subtitled "A Musician's Return to Music," this book is more accurately a memoir of a guitarist's years at music school and slightly beyond. It's way more about the author's growing disillusionment with his instrument (classical guitar) the industry, and himself than it is about any "return." The "return" part might be captured in the framework, the short chapters where Kurtz describes the thoughts and feelings that flow through him during a single practice session in what I assume is pres Though subtitled "A Musician's Return to Music," this book is more accurately a memoir of a guitarist's years at music school and slightly beyond. It's way more about the author's growing disillusionment with his instrument (classical guitar) the industry, and himself than it is about any "return." The "return" part might be captured in the framework, the short chapters where Kurtz describes the thoughts and feelings that flow through him during a single practice session in what I assume is present day... I'm a musician myself, though nowhere near as accomplished as Kurtz. Still, I picked up this book just as I was starting to realize the importance of practice, so I was looking for insight. My favorite parts of Practicing, though, turned out to be when Kurtz struggles with the friction BETWEEN practice and performance -- something I can definitely relate to. I mean, why is it that I can have a song down cold when I'm alone in the basement, but I screw it up when I'm in front of people? What is the difference, really? I want to say "none," and then somehow trick my brain, bring the safe anonymity of the practice room with me, carry it in my pocket and unfold it on stage. It's a tempting concept, but Kurtz concludes something like its opposite, and it's a revelation that applies to more than just music: "Most of the time we experience fear at the prospect of performing, as if we weren't performing all of the time, as if most moments in our lives didn't count. Faced with a sudden sense of significance, then, we panic... [We] protect what is most valuable and offer up only what we aren't afraid to lose... I held onto the notes instead of releasing them, trying to control them after they'd sounded, to shape how the audience heard me." That's from page 156. At the end of this chapter ("The Music of What Happens"), he writes: "Whatever happens will happen. It's like this, really, in every moment, though we rarely have the presence of mind to notice. Instead we're always planning, protecting, wishing, and wanting, as if we could spend our whole lives practicing. I've had enough of practicing. Holding the instrument by the neck, I open the door and step onto the stage to perform." This book beautifully articulates some of the feelings I've had about the rehearsal / performance split, encapsulates something I've only been stretching towards. Namely, that a performance isn't really a showcase for the performer so much as it's an opportunity to transmit something vulnerable, as uncertain and fleeting as music itself. What's more, the same thing could be said of any interaction, any waking moment we share with another person. It's not an easy position to hold; the lure of constant solitude is strong. But even if you mess up, trying to release something more than what you're not afraid to lose...is worth the effort.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Immen

    Well, I more or less read all of the book. It's pretty standard fare, personal recollections and historical anecdotes and mini-lectures on the development of the guitar, but a few remarks... The writing was good, straightforward with the occasional non-vomitous poetic sally. I wrote down "that mysterious apotheosis: a solo career", and later he compares a room strewn with music stands to a charred black forest. I checked for a nod to a ghostwriter, and it turns out Mr. Kurtz has a Ph.D. in compar Well, I more or less read all of the book. It's pretty standard fare, personal recollections and historical anecdotes and mini-lectures on the development of the guitar, but a few remarks... The writing was good, straightforward with the occasional non-vomitous poetic sally. I wrote down "that mysterious apotheosis: a solo career", and later he compares a room strewn with music stands to a charred black forest. I checked for a nod to a ghostwriter, and it turns out Mr. Kurtz has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Go him! I'm guessing this is really his writing, then, his and his editors, anyway. I'm guessing the Ph.D. also has something to do with the reference section in the back. There was a particular quote he gave, Leibniz in a letter to Goldbach (he of the conjecture), "Music is an unconscious exercise in arithmetic, in which the mind doesn't know it is counting." It was the first (the only) factoid that he dropped which made me sit up and reach for the Google, and I was so pleased to see, tucked in the back, all the quotes &c listed by page number and sourced. If he'd included the quote in the original language (presumably German?) my heart might have exploded. As for actual content, hm. He was whiny but well-spoken. I was struck by his first semester blues, that thing where a guy goes home for winter break and cries because he's wasted his youth studying all the wrong things. Apparently this is a common experience. Steven Levitt told the same story in different words, the wide-eyed look the guy sitting next to him in class gave him when Steve leaned over and asked if the curly d meant something different from the usual d/dx. Except Levitt sucked it up and Kurtz didn't. It's strange reading a person's thoughts about themselves! Here's this guy piecing together all his doldrum moments into a narrative of sad. I don't quite know what to make of it, but I appreciate him sharing his story.

  23. 5 out of 5

    JDK1962

    I'm a bit torn on this book (3.5 stars). I'd definitely recommend it for classical guitar students. There's material in there that would also be of interest of musicians of other instruments (i.e., the nature of performance, what happens to a musician who goes through a conservatory program but just isn't good enough for a solo career) that' very well presented, and I'm always interested in reading about the life paths of others. As someone who spent 1-2 years on classical guitar, he does a great I'm a bit torn on this book (3.5 stars). I'd definitely recommend it for classical guitar students. There's material in there that would also be of interest of musicians of other instruments (i.e., the nature of performance, what happens to a musician who goes through a conservatory program but just isn't good enough for a solo career) that' very well presented, and I'm always interested in reading about the life paths of others. As someone who spent 1-2 years on classical guitar, he does a great job describing practice, and the shortcomings of the instrument. One of the problems of learning classical guitar is that you're learning classical guitar repertoire, not general musicianship. If someone comes up to an intermediate classical guitar student and asks them to play "Happy Birthday," they're pretty much screwed unless they've prepared it. However, there's a chunk of material on the history of the classical guitar that made my eyes glaze over. There's perhaps too much of the interspersed chapters describing his practice day. And the narrator, in the memoir chapters, never comes off as terribly likable. That's to his credit as a writer (very honest), but as a character, he comes off as "tortured young artist" and it's a bit much at times.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Charisse Major

    I'm a violinist and not a guitarist, but I enjoyed this book and I felt like I could relate to some of his struggles. I had ambitions of becoming a great performer as a child and a teenager, but in college I realized that that life, at least for me, was not practical or desirable. I'm still working to figure out where I fit in in the musical world. Most of the income I make comes from music-related endeavors, but I'm still trying to figure out how to practice and how to really enjoy making music I'm a violinist and not a guitarist, but I enjoyed this book and I felt like I could relate to some of his struggles. I had ambitions of becoming a great performer as a child and a teenager, but in college I realized that that life, at least for me, was not practical or desirable. I'm still working to figure out where I fit in in the musical world. Most of the income I make comes from music-related endeavors, but I'm still trying to figure out how to practice and how to really enjoy making music. Reading this book made me want to practice more, so I guess that's something. I did find his explanation of the history of the guitar a little tedious and uninteresting. Good quote: "Practicing can be a dream world in which you escape the reality of time. You believe that you have everything to do over again, that you have all the time in the world to achieve perfection. And every day we must practice. There is no other way to improve. Still, practicing, by itself, cheats you of half your life. Even if you are your only audience, music lives fully only in performance. Performance brings all the strands together, for a moment, joining the many conflicting voices with which music speaks..."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I wish I had read this book when I was still studying music. My experience was very similar to Kurtz's and I've never read such an accurate description of what studying music at a collegiate level is like. The way he described the critical mentality everyone possessed and how you knew your peers were always judging you, always comparing...In many ways he proves that the way we train professional musicians is completely contradictory to the way music should be performed. Since I could relate on a I wish I had read this book when I was still studying music. My experience was very similar to Kurtz's and I've never read such an accurate description of what studying music at a collegiate level is like. The way he described the critical mentality everyone possessed and how you knew your peers were always judging you, always comparing...In many ways he proves that the way we train professional musicians is completely contradictory to the way music should be performed. Since I could relate on a personal level I found the passages about his educational experience most interesting. I am not a guitar player so I got a bit lost in the sections about the history and technique, but, with a few exceptions, he didn't linger too long in those passages and I found them more interesting as the book progressed. I've never been able to articulate what went wrong in my pursuit to be a professional musician, but this book helped so much as I realized that I was not alone in my experience. I almost want to practice again...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gilbert Glenn

    This book was pretty good, although if you aren't at least a musician, I wouldn't recommend it very much because of the vocabulary. At first the writing style seemed a little too "cheesy" because of the way he explained everything with ornamentation using words, I think it could have been a little more straightforward but that's just me. Invocation and Dance was a very well written chapter. I as a guitar player saw the value in every word he used. It gives you the history and at the same time it This book was pretty good, although if you aren't at least a musician, I wouldn't recommend it very much because of the vocabulary. At first the writing style seemed a little too "cheesy" because of the way he explained everything with ornamentation using words, I think it could have been a little more straightforward but that's just me. Invocation and Dance was a very well written chapter. I as a guitar player saw the value in every word he used. It gives you the history and at the same time it really helps you understand from his perspective what the guitar really is. Throughout the book I was impressed on the quotes he took from other musicians and used them to present his opinion on what he views as practice and performance. If you are a guitarist I would think this applies pretty well, even if you play a different instrument it can still speak to someone pretty well. I hope this helps :)

  27. 4 out of 5

    David

    Good book for a musician, and probably even better for a guitarist I returned to the cello after a twelve year hiatus, and Glenn Kurtz's book describes eloquently many of my sentiments surrounding quitting and picking up the cello again. His honest storytelling of his ambitions, naivete, heartbreak feels real, and this honesty makes me believe in the hopeful messages in this book. For that reason alone, I think this is a great book for any musician who was once defeated by their own dreams. As a Good book for a musician, and probably even better for a guitarist I returned to the cello after a twelve year hiatus, and Glenn Kurtz's book describes eloquently many of my sentiments surrounding quitting and picking up the cello again. His honest storytelling of his ambitions, naivete, heartbreak feels real, and this honesty makes me believe in the hopeful messages in this book. For that reason alone, I think this is a great book for any musician who was once defeated by their own dreams. As a book, however, I find it a little disorganized. The author weave a day of practicing into his autobiography a-la Mrs. Dalloway, but it sometimes feels random and drawn out and makes you wonder, "Am I reading wikipedia?" So, would I recommend this book? I'd say yes. It's a pretty easy read and I like the 'lessons' from this book, but it is not extremely well-written.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    The first few sentences captivated me -- 'oooh, a book about practicing' I thought as I traded my simoleons to the bespectacled young man behind the counter at Rosewood Guitar. It turns out Kurtz alternates chapters about practicing classical guitar in his San Francisco room with chapters about his life as a musician. His real topic is his disappointment and disillusionment with his goal of becoming a professional musician. Kurtz includes lots of interesting history and lore about the classical gu The first few sentences captivated me -- 'oooh, a book about practicing' I thought as I traded my simoleons to the bespectacled young man behind the counter at Rosewood Guitar. It turns out Kurtz alternates chapters about practicing classical guitar in his San Francisco room with chapters about his life as a musician. His real topic is his disappointment and disillusionment with his goal of becoming a professional musician. Kurtz includes lots of interesting history and lore about the classical guitar, its players and composers. While it held my interest throughout, I was less interested in K's melodrama of quitting and returning to making music than his insightful and introspective observations on his practicing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mario

    As a young man, the author initially pursued a career as a classical guitarist, with thoughts of becoming a star. He quit both his dream and playing guitar when he realized he wouldn't be a star but "merely" a working musician: giving lessons, playing weddings, and occasionally holding a concert. The reality of the "day job" undermined his ability to sustain his drive to practice, to perform -- to wrestle sublime music out of the guitar. After more than 10 years without playing, and after losing As a young man, the author initially pursued a career as a classical guitarist, with thoughts of becoming a star. He quit both his dream and playing guitar when he realized he wouldn't be a star but "merely" a working musician: giving lessons, playing weddings, and occasionally holding a concert. The reality of the "day job" undermined his ability to sustain his drive to practice, to perform -- to wrestle sublime music out of the guitar. After more than 10 years without playing, and after losing all the technique and musicality he had developed, he returned to playing again, not to recapture his dream, but to recapture his life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is a great read for any classical guitarist who has strayed away from the instrument and then come back to it (like me). The deep reflections of the author on his relationship with the classical guitar brought back echoes of my own relationship to the instrument. Since we are roughly the same age and went through the conservatory system at about the same time, I felt like I was walking down the same hallways and reliving the experiences. Now that I am playing every day my original concert i This is a great read for any classical guitarist who has strayed away from the instrument and then come back to it (like me). The deep reflections of the author on his relationship with the classical guitar brought back echoes of my own relationship to the instrument. Since we are roughly the same age and went through the conservatory system at about the same time, I felt like I was walking down the same hallways and reliving the experiences. Now that I am playing every day my original concert instrument from those days and writing music for guitar all the time, I am just so happy to hear such a moving story of one man's journey with the instrument.

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