Lloyd Alexander, Musician

You might know about Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007) as an author of children’s books.  His award-winning fantasy series, the Chronicles of Prydain, while indebted to Tolkien, might just be a more satisfying read than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

But while he was a struggling author for adults, Alexander wrote a book called My Love Affair with Music.  It’s a great snapshot of music education and listening trends in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.  It’s also a fascinating personal history of childhood piano lessons, high school choir class, playing cymbals and organ in the Army, a vocal group with coworkers at a bank, desultory instrument purchases, and finally, violin lessons as an adult.  We’re used to books where successful professionals recount their musical origins, but it is refreshing to hear an amateur’s perspective.

My favorite passage of the memoir, because it captures the era so well, is when Alexander is too poor to buy all the sheet music he wants:

“The sheet-music department of a downtown five-and-ten kept a pianist on hand to play through the pieces — not only to popularize them but to let prospective customers hear what something sounded like before they bought it.

Whenever I needed music, I visited the five-and-ten in the guise of a prospect…asked if [the pianist] would mind playing it for me…A second later, the music emerged, like so much hamburger from a meat grinder.  I digested it…turned away from the counter, empty handed but with my music carefully concealed in my head.”  (pp. 93-95)

It’s good to know that our library’s Music Department has tens of thousands of music scores and instructional materials for free for the amateur musician.  Alexander’s hometown of Philadelphia does too.  Visit your library to begin your own love affair with music and books.

– Tim

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