What’s on Your Summer Reading List? Don’t forget the music!

Ahhhhh… the Summer. Can you believe we made it to Summer 2021?! Teachers, school staff, administrators, students, parents CONGRATULATIONS! You survived an unprecedented school year that will make its way into the history books as one of the most transformative years EVER. We have learned to adapt, that change is not always bad, and the ability to do it quickly and well is imperative to our survival as a society. Whew!! 

But to quote Anna from Disney’s Frozen II, “Some things never change.” My now first grader brought home a list of recommended summer reading, and it was such a breath of fresh air. I remember my summer reading lists. Sometimes, I fell in love with the characters and stories and was able to immerse myself in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which was a summer reading book for me early on, and I love it to this day. Then, sometimes, you have to read a long book about bunnies with political and social commentary that doesn’t quite float your pleasure reading boat (ahem, Watership Down). 

So, being inspired by the memories of summer reading, I thought I would post a couple of children’s books that I have really loved sharing with my six-year old that are music and string-family related. As well as a couple of books for young musicians, especially those who may struggle with performance anxiety.

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Itzhak, A Boy Who Loved the Violin: The Story of Young Itzhak Perlman

Written by Tracy Newman and Illustrated by Abigail Halpin

Appropriate for children ages 5-8, enjoyable for all 

This is a beautiful children’s book that chronicles Itzhak Perlman’s journey and beginnings studying violin. This true and inspirational story also shows the healing power of music through his battle with polio, his will to overcome his disability and how he used his imagination and mind to enhance his music making, even as a child. The illustrations are GORGEOUS. The colors and strokes illustrate even some musical terminology often used in string playing. 

The book ends with an author’s note further detailing a biography of Itzhak’s life into adulthood including quotes and other challenges he faced along the road. The Illustrator’s note is a beautiful look at the inspiration behind the illustrations and also shares that she herself is a violinist. The descriptive writing is able to engage even the youngest readers! I even found myself caught up in the magic as we were reading the book for the very first time.

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A Violin for Elva

Written by Mary Lyn Ray and Illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Appropriate for children ages 5-8, enjoyable for all

This similarly beautiful book follows Elva, a fictional character, in her journey from childhood to adulthood. After “discovering” music as a violinist was playing at her next door neighbor’s garden party, she told her parents she wanted a violin. Her parents, not understanding or knowing music themselves, said, “No.” Thus begins the journey of Elva having a passion for violin and finally summoning the courage as an adult to pursue her passion. Whimsical Illustrations and storytelling (similar to the children’s book, Madeline) make this book incredibly endearing and teach us that it’s never too late to pursue your passion, to never give-up, and that musical enjoyment can enhance quality of life to the very end! Again, another book that can be enjoyed by both young and old.

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Hana Hashimoto’s Sixth Violin

Written by Chieri Uegaki and Illustrated by Qin Leng

Appropriate for children ages 3-8, enjoyable for all

In Chieri Uegaki’s picture book Hana Hashimoto’s Sixth Violin, Hana has signed up to play her violin at a school talent show. It’s only after she signs up that she remembers that she is a beginner with only three lessons under her belt. Despite the pestering of her little brother, the image of her grandfather playing his violin in Japan gives Hana the confidence to practice every single day, and perform at the talent show!

One of the aspects I enjoyed the most about this story was the Asian American female protagonist. She offers a refreshing and unique perspective as the author weaves in the beauty and wonder of music in Japan. Overall this book is a celebration of music and the importance of intergenerational relationships. It’s perfect for any young musician who needs that little extra dash of courage for their performance.

While you read along at home, ASO violinist Yuriko Yasuda shared this book as a part of Music4Romania and Saint Francis Music Academy’s Music Corner Story Time: Listen, Listen. You can listen to her read Hana Hashimoto’s Sixth Violin when you click here.

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The Inner Game of Music

Written by Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey

Appropriate for young musicians between the ages of 10-14 

I will never forget the day my piano teacher recommended this book to me. I believe I was in middle school and starting to play pieces that were multi-movement and required a lot of memorization work. Mostly, I was able to perform well, but my performance anxiety was getting worse- mostly the fear of blanking on stage, getting stuck at a spot and not knowing how to get back on track. My muscles knew what to do, but my mind was running 1,000 miles a minute with, “Oh my goodness, what if I forget?!” over and over… and over. My child-like bravery- you know, the one where you see 4 and 5 year olds get up on stage completely uninhibited and play what they know with no preconceived fear? That was gone. 

After a particularly tough recital, where I played way too fast and unmusical to get through the piece in an effort to not forget or blank, my teacher recommended The Inner Game of Tennis. The book explores the mental side of playing tennis, focus and achieving peak performance. She said that musicians use this book, too, and have been successful with implementing its mental strategies. I read it, but had a hard time truly connecting my piano playing with the tennis jargon. Shortly after, I found The Inner Game of Music which I connected to so much better. The book outlines the same principles as The Inner Game of Tennis with a connection to musical performance instead of sports. The Inner Game of Music is written by Barry Green who was the principal bassist for the Cincinnati Symphony. 

This is great summer reading for young adults, teens and adults who struggle with performance anxiety or musical enjoyment of their instrument that is clouded by fear. Throughout college, I kept it on my bookshelf and referenced it when needed. I would say this a “must-have” and invaluable resource for performance majors!

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Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day

Written by Clemency Burton-Hill

Appropriate for young musicians ages 10+

Some books are meant to be read in school, others are perfect for the beach, and Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill is a book that is meant to be read throughout the whole year! 

This unique celebration of classical music shows the reader a variety of pieces and highlights the diverse wonders the genre supplies. Year of Wonder introduces the reader each day to one piece of classical music, along with a brief introduction that helps place the piece in its time period, genre, or composer’s style. From Bach to Gershwin to Duke Ellington, and many more, author Burton-Hill will take you and your student on a transformative journey through the art of classical music.

I hope you all have an incredible summer! Don’t forget to support local musicians and music venues in your community. Thank you for your fervent support of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and our education programs. We look forward to sharing more with you about our 21/22 Season in the near future and hope that we will be able to welcome you back to our concert halls in the Fall. 

Are you a music educator in the state of Alabama that would like to share your experience? Inquire about being featured in our Education Blog by emailing Maria Wilson, ASO Education Initiatives Manager, at mwilson@alabamasymphony.org 

by Maria Wilson, Education Initiatives Manager, Alabama Symphony Orchestra