Monday, May 5, 2008

Broken Chords by Barbara Snow Gilbert

I enjoyed reading this novel for young adults because it provided a unique look into the world of music, especially that of serious musicians. But, this book is much more than just a story about young musicians, as it touches on many "coming of age" issues which young aspiring musicians and their parents must face.

The story revolves around Clara Lorenzo, a brilliant, young aspiring concert pianist whose mother and father are both professional musicians. Gilbert gradually shows us just what Clara's life is really like. Her mother, whom Clara calls the Maestra, is conductor of the symphony and her father was a well known opera singer who gave up his career to further Clara's music education. She has been studying piano since the age of three. Her home has not one but two grand pianos in the livingroom which is lined with cereal boxes filled with music.

We meet Clara as she is performing in the opening competitions of the Nicklaus Piano Competition. It is here that she meets Marshall Hamonnd Lawrence, also a brilliant pianist and her only real competition. Clara's developing friendship with Marshall shows her another aspect of life she hasn't considered. Clara's parents have such control over her and are so obsessed with developing their daughter's talent that they are not aware of the inner struggle Clara is undergoing. They don't realise that she is growing up, with her own interests and plans. When Clara goes against her parents and attends tryouts for a part in the Nutcracker ballet, things only get worse.

Woven into all this is the story of her teacher, Tashi (Natalia Petrovna Volkonskaya) who also had to make a major life decision which involved music. When Clara comes to understand Tashi's decision and her reason for making the decision she did, this helps her make her own decision regarding her music career. She takes courage from Tashi's story even though the outcomes will be much different.

I enjoyed this book because it was relevant to my life both as a former music student and as a parent to a young gifted musician. I believe that many young musicians struggle with the same kinds of decisions Clara faced. Ultimately, the decision to become a dedicated professional musician must be the young person's and theirs alone. The story was believable and well written. I would have liked Marshall's character to have been more developed. His presence in Clara's life made her seem more real and believable.

I felt this book was an accurate portrayal of how some parents can lose sight of what music really is - a gift to be shared with others. It remains to the musician to discover just how to accomplish this task.

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