A Poet of the Cello

When I was a kid, there was a boy I knew in the class two grades above me (he was two years older). I knew him because we were both faculty kids: his dad was the music teacher, and my mom taught fifth grade, as well as some music and theater. Actually, she had been one of his first music teachers, when he was just five, and I was three. Today, he’s famous. He is, in fact, one of the finest cellists in the world. When I was a teenager, I studied cello with him for a few years. Since Mstislav Rostropvich left the earth a few years ago, there is no cellist living I would rather hear. I listen to his playing every day while I write. His name is David Finckel. Happily, David has made quite a few recordings, both as part of the multiple-Grammy-winning Emerson Quartet, and also as a duo with his wife Wu Han, the phenomenal pianist. He is also a wonderful teacher, and has a series of online lessons, a delight to watch even if you don’t play the cello. (He calls these little videos “Cello Talks,” and he uploads them from all over the world—it’s worth watching them just to see the locations!) David recently wrote an open letter to students of their chamber music program, most of it devoted to technical issues — but I was especially taken with a passage near the end, “The Visual Element: Messaging,” and thought I ought to share this excerpt with you. As you read it, consider this: you may not be a performing chamber...

What’s Your Favorite Book?

I just spent an hour as a guest on a conference call for Spencer Reynolds’s wonderful reading group, Book Readers Club. Spencer has been leading this group, dubbed “Where Dedicated Learners Come Together Every Week,” for some five years now. Participants hail from all around the nation and meet on a live conference call once a week (though many catch the discussion later via podcast) to read and discuss their given book of choice. This week was the final week of their reading of The Go-Giver, and they had invited me to join them. I did. After reading a selection (we took turns; two members read Chapters 12 and 13; I got to read Chapter 14 and thus close the book!), we discussed the book for a good half hour. They asked all sorts of intriguing and excellent questions. The one that I did not have a good answer for was the very last: “What is your favorite book?” Geez. You’d think I’d know. At first I gave a lame answer (“That’s like being asked to pick your favorite child, and I have four kids”), but then mentioned two that I love: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, and John Steinbeck’s great sweeping classic East of Eden. Then I followed that with another lame answer: “It keeps changing; I guess my answer would be different depending on what day you asked.” After hanging up, I thought, Hey, that’s not true. The books that have had the most impact on me are timeless, and they don’t change from day to day. I still remember the very first book...