In the tradition of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and Gelsey Kirkland's Dancing on My Grave, Mozart in the Jungle delves into the lives of the musicians and conductors who inhabit the insular world of classical music.
In a book that inspired the Amazon original series starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Malcolm McDowell, oboist Blair Tindall recounts her decades-long professional career as a classical musician, from the recitals and Broadway orchestra performances to the secret life of musicians who survive hand to mouth in the backbiting New York classical music scene, trading sexual favors for plum jobs and assignments in orchestras across the city. Tindall and her fellow journeymen musicians often play drunk, high, or hopelessly hungover, live in decrepit apartments, and perform in hazardous conditions. These are working-class musicians who schlep across the city between low-paying gigs, without health-care benefits or retirement plans - a stark contrast to the rarefied experiences of overpaid classical musician superstars.
An incisive, no-holds-barred account, Mozart in the Jungle is the first true, behind-the-scenes look at what goes on backstage and in the Broadway pit.
©2005 Blair Tindall (P)2015 Audible Inc.
First, I discovered this book after seeing the two seasons of the Amazon TV series. This book is NOTHING like that. But more about that later.
If you are coming to this book without having seen the Amazon series, you will not be confused. The story is of a young musician, very talented it would seem, who moves to NYC, lives in a run-down apartment building, and makes her way through the world of classical music, with a side trip to Broadway orchestras.
The story is somewhat interesting, but the author shows her journalism roots (rather than entertainment) by interjecting dry statistics from newspapers, magazines, and government sources, on the state of classical music in the country.
But even the humanity of the story feels dry. Several characters appear throughout the book and we get to see their lives change. One of her friends has a very serious heart condition. The book takes us through the drama of all his operations and then decline. But there isn't any feeling to the story. We don't care.
Other characters feel just a dry. The author has a tendency to rank the quality of her friend's lives as to what kind of apartment they have, who they are married to, and what kind of music they create. The author eventually leaves the classical music field for journalism when she realizes she doesn't want to live in her apartment building after the age of 40. This is not how you create an empathetic character.
As far as the sex and drugs, they're in there, with a lot of booze on the side. I think we are supposed to be shocked that classical musicians, considered such a stiff and stuffy group, would smoke dope, snort cocaine, performed stoned, and sleep around with married people.
Sadly these are all the people the author seems to know.
But even these scandalous-sounding stories come out without any feeling. We don't care if someone plays stoned one night. Or a $10,000 flute is stolen from a restaurant. Or they do crossword puzzles in the pit of a Broadway orchestra.
The story ends with the author's cautions against sending children into music schools if they're not going to be able to get jobs in an industry that is losing employment. I agree that kids should not learn to play the oboe if they only want to do it to be a professional musician. Obviously someone as talented as the author had to leave because there wasn't enough work. But what about the joy of learning to make music? Or the discipline of learning an instrument. Or the fun of banging on the drum in a marching band.
If we listen to the author, all the music in education programs would be cancelled.
It's a shame, though, that the author stopped her story shortly after leaving classical music. A quick search on Google shows she's had quite the amazing life since then with restraining orders, fake marriage, and mental problems. Now THAT'S a story I would love to have read.
Now, for anyone who has seen the Amazon series and wants to get more about that story? Forget it! This book has as much to do with the Amazon show as a map of Texas does to the series "Dallas."
That's not to say you won't enjoy this book. It's just that they are totally different.
Same thing the other way round. If you have listened to this book, you'll be surprised at how little of it is in the series. The series has concocted characters that are not at all in this book. The characters in the series are interesting. But I'm really surprised they share the same title.
This might have been a better book with a different performer. She read too slowly and I just couldn't connect her with the main character. I may try just reading,it rather than listening.
I was really looking forward to listening to this story after watching the Series, but just couldn't make it past the narrator.
Tindall's overall effort in this book is to make the point that the classical music scene in America has changed in the last 50 years; and that schools and conservatories are turning out too many new students in relation to available jobs in the market. Excellent point. However she arrives at this at this point by way of chapters and chapters of dull and uninteresting stories and anecdotes. Tindall tries to decorate her stories with inane details such as what she was wearing or what color the sky was or what food she ordered at a restaurant, but we as the readers are left with little real substance, and also to wonder how much of the story presented as fact is really just a construct.
Tindall describes her time at a music Conservatory, how she got to New York, and her experience as a freelance musician was like. Through example after example she to explains that most of her big breaks in her music career came from sleeping with someone important, then goes on to tell the readers about how unsustainable a career in music is. She also spends an absurd amount of time talking about reed making and how bad she was at it.
As a musician I was excited to get in to this book, but was left a bit disappointed. There is a lot of filler in the book that only serves to make a few interesting experiences and a social/political observation into a something she can sell as a "book".
This is a great book about a sexually exploited youth who uses her sexuality to advance her career and then complains there is too much sexual influence in classical music.
Let me share the Blair is a great musician and a great writer. On both counts she deserves every award and achievement. If you like music and personal stories this book will reach you. If self destructive behavior bothers you move on. She constantly complains that her reeds are not well formed or that she is being shorted opportunity. Both are directly due to her focus on building her skills and choosing to live a love free lifestyle.
On a positive side she does admit her lack of focus practice limited her performance and did lose her opportunity.
I hope Blair can see that she was gifted more than most and was blessed to have found a path to her own fulfilment. Almost all limitations along the way where due to poor choices. You the reader can decide if this was due to not being taught life skills, a rigged system or a stubborn pursuit of pleasure.
I learned that we, individually, are our own worst enemy. For me this book demonstrates that clearly.
I loved the journalistic picture of the waft and waning of classical music in the last quarter of the 20th century. It depicts the real life of a classical musician after years and years of practicing, and the juggernaut of emporiums built around culture and the paying public. The kind of proficiency Blair Tindall achieved, only to be dissatisfied with the resulting work-a-day world is fascinating and believable. It's both informative and fun, because she includes all the hanky-panky.
The book takes place decades before the TV series, and where the series is charming, this is told, and read, with a dry, knowing irony. None of the TV characters are here, but it doesn't matter, because this is its own world, well told and equally interesting.
I struggled to finish this, finding large portions unbearably boring. The book touches on interesting topics, but quickly brushes past to spend 10 minutes talking about how repetitive music is, or how much rent everyone paid. Going in depth about the apartment neighbors practicing scales on different instruments, then one sentence about exchange students from Korea trading sex for room and board.
Sex and drugs play an incredibly minimal role for being in the title.
A compelling story about the struggling life of musicians who try very hard to make a living with music.
It is also a love story where positive human feelings triumph over despair and boredom .
I recommend this book if you are interested in classical music, culture and ,human relationships .
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