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Piano Lessons: Music, Love, and True Adventures [Paperback]

Noah Adams
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 10 1997
Piano Lessons is Noah Adams's delightful and moving chronicle of his fifty-second year--a year already filled with long, fast workdays and too little spare time--as he answers at last a lifelong call: to learn to play the piano.  The twelve monthly chapters span from January--when after decades of growing affection for keyboard artists and artisans he finally plunges in and buys a piano--through December, when as a surprise Christmas present for his wife he dresses in a tuxedo and, in flickering candlelight, snow falling outside the windows, he attempts their favorite piece of music, a difficult third-year composition he's been struggling with in secret to get to this very moment.

Among the up-tempo triumphs and unexpected setbacks, Noah Adams interweaves the rich history and folklore that surround the piano.  And along the way, set between the ragtime rhythms and boogie-woogie beats, there are encounters with--and insights from--masters of the keyboard, from Glenn Gould and Leon Fleisher ("I was a bit embarrassed," he writes; "telling Leon Fleisher about my ambitions for piano lessons is like telling Julia Child about plans to make toast in the morning") to Dr. John and Tori Amos.

As a storyteller, Noah Adams has perfect pitch.  In the foreground here, like a familiar melody, are the challenges of learning a complex new skill as an adult, when enthusiasm meets the necessary repetition of tedious scales at the end of a twelve-hour workday.  Lingering in the background, like a subtle bass line, are the quiet concerns of how we spend our time and how our priorities shift as we proceed through life.  For Piano Lessons is really an adventure story filled with obstacles to overcome and grand leaps forward, eccentric geniuses and quiet moments of pre-dawn practice, as Noah Adams travels across country and keyboard, pursuing his dream and keeping the rhythm.

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From Amazon

The difference between the piano lessons Noah Adams took and the ones most of us took was that he was 51, not 7, and -- lucky Noah -- his mother didn't make him practice. This is not only a delightful account of his twelve-month nose-to-the-grindstone attempt to learn to play the $11,000 Steinway he bought on a whim, but also the story of his many-year process of falling in love with music and its history. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"It is my dream, when I touch the keys, to release the notes. It is music waiting there," writes Adams in this delightful recreation of the year he recently spent trying to learn to play the piano and, most specifically, trying to master Robert Schumann's Traumerei. The experience may have been frustrating for the author, but he is such an unself-conscious raconteur that he catches the reader's sympathy and amusement at his befuddlement as to why he, a 51-year-old, would be so foolhardy as to suddenly spend $11,375 for an instrument he neither knows how to play nor, given the pressures of his job as host of NPR's All Things Considered, has time to practice. Figuring that he has only 20 minutes a day to devote to activities unrelated to his work, he sets out to become a pianist, first studying with a computer program, then a sight-reading system on tapes and finally, in the most captivating episode here, at a 10-day adult music school in Vermont run by the family of the saleswoman who sold him his Steinway. Adams interrupts his practice sessions throughout the book to reminisce about pianists he admires, educate us about keyboard instruments, tell us about his domestic life with his wife, Neenah, and about his job and related travels. At year's end he feels confident enough to play the Schumann for his wife as a Christmas present. A piece Horowitz could play in two minutes and 32 seconds Adams needs 20 minutes to complete. No matter, for his performance brings his audience of readers to its feet with shouts of "Bravo!"
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A musical journey April 28 2002
I am confused and disappointed by other reviews of this book that claim Noah Adams went about learning the piano all wrong. Readers who were hoping for hints about practice and technique have missed out on a thoroughly good read, all because of their misguided approach to this wonderful story of one man's musical quest. This is not a "how to" book, and nor should it be.
What makes this book such a treasure is the exact same thing as what one reviewer callously calls "banal fluff": talking about his wife, his love for a piece of music that he longs to play but fears he can't, his experiences of meeting and talking with other musicians, his knowledge of pianos and of music in general, and his passion and appreciation for music of many styles. The process of learning a musical instrument is a journey, and Noah tells us of his. From the first chapter, when he talks of the secret desire he has held for years to buy a piano, to the last chord of Schumann's 'Träumerei' which he plays as a Christmas present for his wife, this book entranced me with the joys and the struggles of learning to play an instrument. Yes, he may have got there faster if he'd spent more time practicing and less time procrastinating, but chances are the results would have been far less rewarding, and the book would certainly have been far less interesting.
Ultimately, if you genuinely have a passion for music, there is no right or wrong way to go about learning. Noah did it this way, and he got there in the end. Who are we to criticise?
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4.0 out of 5 stars For All Who Would Play Jan. 4 2002
Noah Adams, in his book Piano Lessons, presents an honest, straight forward guide on achieving one's goal in middle age. This is not a just a book about piano lessons, but more a story about becoming who we really want to be, or even more, who we really are. Mr. Adams tells the truth about procrastination and about dedication, those traits that tend to haunt us through our middle years. Have we really achieved what we've wanted out of life? And what can we do if something is missing?
One thing Noah Adams did was keep a record of his goal setting and the achievement of that goal. By writing the book in the form of a journal, the reader is able to watch his progress as he sets out to learn to play the piano. He starts big, with the investment of an $11,000 Steinway and the rest is history. He stumbles through a Miracle Piano Teaching System on the computer ($259.95), various piano technique books, a music camp and finally some honest to goodness piano lessons. The book ends with Mr Adams presenting his wife, Neenah, with a concert for Christmas, complete with tuxedo, brass candlesticks, candles and the favorite pieces he has longed to play for many years.
This might sound overly sentimental, but to many of us who have procrastinated all of our lives in the music field, Piano Lessons is true inspiration. Mr Adams would be pleased to know that as soon as I finished the book, I perused the internet and ordered $75 worth of music books ("Hooked on Easy Classics"). I have built the fire in the little guest house where my inherited piano(my mother's) has rested for five years virtually untouched. I am going to warm up the strings and start playing.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A feel good book Dec 8 2000
This book is amusing and pleasant. It has nice anecdotes, musical information, names are dropped and a good inspirational message about going after a midlife dream. The 2 stars are for that. Have time on a bus, train or plane? Bring this along its not a bad read. But if you already play the piano and are at home you're better off practicing. If you don't play and want to, well what are you waiting for? Get the inpsiration from the music you love and get a good teacher.
As someone else wrote, it's hilarious that Noah would spend $11 grand on a piano and not get a good teacher. I mean with all his connections? If you are thinking of starting, a good teacher is well worth the money, it will get you going faster and you will feel more committed. Spend less on the piano if you have to. A lot of Noah's frustrations in learning could have been made easier with a teacher, but I guess then he wouldn't have written this book. He would have been too busy practicing. But maybe his real midlife dream was this book?
When all is said and done, if someone other than a person with a bit of celebrity status, such as Noah, had written this book who would care? You might get better inspiration by learning about the music you love and following your own path.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ironic title, but a good read March 16 2000
The irony of "Piano Lessons" is that it's not about taking piano lessons at all, at least not weekly piano lessons with a teacher, and so you might read this book as a primer on how NOT to learn to play the piano.
That said, I enjoyed this book and found it to be a lovely meditation on the beauty of the piano and the difficulty of fitting an amateur passion into a busy, career-laden schedule. I thought to myself that if a fine writer and talented journalist such as Adams could take such a weird approach to learning to play - erratically using music software and turning his back on his lovely new Steinway! -- then I shouldn't be afraid to try. It's been a year since I read "Piano Lessons," and I now own a piano, am six months into weekly piano lessons and am at the skill level where I could play "Traumeri" (although I haven't tried to do so). "Piano Lessons" helped kick-start my own musical adventure.
How's it going with you, Noah?
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the struggle
Since I'm in my forties and just bought a digital piano to learn and play music for the first time in my life, I thought it would be interesting to read this book for some tips and... Read more
Published on July 11 2003 by kyara
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing learned
An awful book. A preening book. A silly & self-satisfied book.
Adams spends most of it avoiding his piano; attending twee
little piano workshops, fussing with some... Read more
Published on Dec 5 2002 by Amy
2.0 out of 5 stars Long On Talk, Short On Lessons
I was interested in reading the book becasue I recently returned to playing the piano after 30 years and I thought it would be fun to read someone else's experience on the trials... Read more
Published on Nov. 22 2002 by West Coast Piano Player
5.0 out of 5 stars Piano Lessons: Music, Love & True Adventures
Noah Adams has captured the soul of learning to play the piano, and in so doing has answered his own question: Why does a fifty-one-year-old man suddenly decide he has to have a... Read more
Published on March 31 2002 by Ann Haley
2.0 out of 5 stars piano playing sans piano teacher
mr. adams book was a sad disappointment to this adult beginner piano player. his chapters follow the calendar year beginning with the purchase of an expensive piano. Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2002 by Virginia L. Butterworth
4.0 out of 5 stars Zen and the Art of Piano Playing!
Like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance this book isn't as much about Piano Lessons as it is a life lived during a period of the author's learning music as an adult. Read more
Published on Dec 14 2001 by Conuschiro
4.0 out of 5 stars Piano Dreams
What a wonderful, uplifting, book! Having begun playing the piano again after nearly 40 years away from it, I found myself enjoying Noah Adams descriptions of his joys and... Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2001 by Lucinda Burr
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish I had the Steinway that inspired the book.
This book is about Noah Adams' decision to purchase a Steinway and learn to play. This is not a how-to book, but it will provide inspiration to the adult beginner, and it will... Read more
Published on June 21 2001 by Carol C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Piano Lessons
After reading most of the reviews, it seems that people had different expectations of the book and sometimes read it for the wrong purpose. I don't believe Mr. Read more
Published on May 20 2001 by Marianne
4.0 out of 5 stars Noteworthy
Noah Adams is best known as a commentator on the National Public Radio network's All Things Considered. Read more
Published on July 18 2000 by Krista
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