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How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

PIANO LESSONS: Music, Love and True Adventures,\o7 By Noah Adams (Delacorte Press: $20.95; 250 pp.)\f7

April 21, 1996|Daniel Cariaga | Daniel Cariaga is a Times staff writer specializing in music

We used to call them piano hobbyists, and that is as good a description as any: devotees of music who know a little bit about a lot of things in the world of piano, who play a little or a lot and who spread enthusiasm about their chosen obsession.

Noah Adams, a broadcast personality who has been a familiar and reassuring voice on National Public Radio for 22 years, is one of them--but more articulate than most.

His neatly researched journal of one year's piano study in which he started as a virtual beginner offers pianistic lore both old and newfound. It chronicles Adams' mini-survey of adult-beginner methods, his psychological setbacks, small triumphs and musical enlightenments--and tells many stories charmingly.

The writer's manifest self-consciousness and frequent, self-indulgent digressions--he often stops the flow of narrative to deliver engaging little music-appreciation anecdotes--reveal a certain discomfort with musical materials. Not coincidentally then, small errors mar the text.

Still, Adams spins his tale convincingly. It turns out to be not merely one of starting to conquer technique, but one of growing aesthetic awareness. After all, becoming musically literate may be a halting process. Yet it remains a linear and uncomplicated activity--and, if it has an end, that end is in the spiritual realm.

Using his encounters with professional pianists, fellow hobbyists and, especially, an assorted collection of keyboard pedagogues, Adams surrounds the subject of adult-onset piano-itis without trying to contain it. This is a small book that succeeds by indicating its limitations rather than by attempting to embrace the entire subject.

Along the way, wise heads contribute. Among many others, those quoted include Leon Fleisher, Butch Thompson, Tori Amos, a "Vermont guy" and a woman who used to play in department stores and who now markets her own recordings. Adams' reverse pianistic snobbery is almost endearing. He is also PC: note his mentions of "We Shall Overcome" and cocaine.

Nevertheless, by the end, he has become a fascinating companion and the reader cannot doubt that Adams will continue down the piano-playing path he has described so lovingly.

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