Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Sight Reading"

Daphne Kalotay's fiction collection, Calamity and Other Stories (Doubleday), was short listed for the 2005 Story Prize, and her debut novel, Russian Winter (HarperCollins), won the 2011 Writers’ League of Texas Fiction Prize, made the long list for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and has been published in 21 foreign editions.

Kalotay applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sight Reading, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
“What I want you to learn,” Conrad Lesser said that first day, leaning back in a wooden swivel chair so that his flaplike ears seemed even larger, “more than anything else that you learn in this class, is how to love music.”

Remy and the others nodded reverently. The class was small; besides Remy there was a pretty brunette named Barb; a Russian boy called Mischa; twin sisters named Penelope and Pauline; and a timid blond boy (the youngest in the class) who said his name so softly, no one caught it. Each of them had been assigned a new piece to learn by heart, and Remy could tell that each of them was terrified.

The blond boy was asked to go first. He had been assigned Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major, and as he began to play, with a definite flair but also somehow too slick, Remy recalled some of the musical friends she had known who flew from continent to continent to compete in contests and had this same, overly polished air.

Mrs. Lepik had forbidden Remy to follow that path; she said it was bad to always be in the spotlight, that competitions narrowed one’s creative field, that by playing the same carefully perfected pieces over and over, one’s playing became mannered. Remy supposed this was what had happened with the blond boy, who seemed to have modeled his playing on Jascha Heifetz; his bowing and slides, his very stance, were recognizable, almost a pose. Lesser told him to stop.

“It’s very clear which recording you’ve been listening to,” Lesser said. “A marvelous one. But what you’re doing now is an imitation. A copy. If this were a math exam, you wouldn’t copy, would you?”

The boy shook his head.

“Do you know why it’s wrong to copy?” Lesser didn’t wait for an answer. “Not just because it’s unoriginal. It’s that it’s insincere.”

The boy said something too soft for anyone to understand.

“We must always, every one of us, play from the heart. In fact, please sit down. Let’s hear from one of your colleagues.” He motioned for Remy to stand.
This is the first time I’ve ever done this test with one of my books, so I was delighted to find the page pretty representative of the book as a whole. This scene takes place on the first day of summer-long master class that the young violinist, Remy, has auditioned for. She is one of three protagonists in the novel, a soulful character, serious and driven to succeed as a musician but passionate in other ways, too, and what she learns from this teacher will ultimately change the course of her life--and of the two other main characters. By pushing her harder than she has been pushed in the past, Conrad Lesser enables Remy to act on her desires in ways that have life-altering ramifications. Yes, she will learn “how to love music.” But in being genuine and true to herself as a musician, she expands emotionally as well, eventually wondering if it might in fact be more important to love—and be loved by—another human being.
Learn more about the book and author at Daphne Kalotay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue