Radio Program – Music – Leigh Hunt


The following are true stories about music in the lives of famous and not so famous people plus some useful and entertaining background books for learning about or playing music.

Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightment. James R. Gaines. (920). 2005. This story pits Frederick the Great, who played the flute as a youngster, and Bach’s son, the king’s chief keyboardist, against “old Bach” in the quintessential conflict between the cold certainty of Reason and the mystery and awe of Belief. The result is Bach’s rebuke of Frederick through his composition, A Musical Offering, “a stirring declaration of everything Bach had stood for all his life.”

The House that George Built With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty. Wilfred Sheed. (782.42164). 2007. This book illuminates the legends, gossip, and history of the Golden Age of song in American music. All the great ones are highlighted here against a glittering background of music and magic made even more exciting by the first-hand insights of the author who personally knew many of the celebrities he profiles.

Jazz Spoken Here: Conversations with Twenty-Two Musicians. Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin. (920). 1992. Exploring the heart of jazz life, the musicians interviewed in this book talk about their early influences and personal visions, the jazz tradition, and the politics of survival. They discuss jazz styles and the current state of jazz in America. This book includes a list of essential jazz recordings.

The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945. Wladyslaw Szpilman. (B Szpilman). 1999. In the tradition of Anne Frank’s diary, this Holocaust memoir is a biography of a Polish, classical pianist who lost his entire family, survived in hiding, and was saved by a German officer who heard him play Chopin’s nocturne on a piano found in the rubble of war. Truly a remarkable story “about the power of music, which provides Szpilman the determination to go on and literally saves him several times.” An award-winning motion picture by Roman Polanski.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier. Thad Charhart. (786.2). 2001. Carhart’s biography combines the “engineering considerations that go into making a great piano with the human satisfaction that comes of playing one.” You’ll never look at a piano the same way again.

The NPR Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music by Ted Libbey.  The book that inspired this radio program, with recommended recordings and a web-site with 75 hours of listening. (Regional library)

Piano for Dummies by Blake Neely.  Includes CD.  Suitable for all keyboards, not just pianos. We also have a book on learning guitar. (786.1)

The Musical Theatre by Alan Jay Lerner.  Complete with stories and photos. (782.81)

The Definitive Kobbe’s Opera Book Edited, Revised and Updated by the Earl of Harewood.  The book to check into if you are planning to enjoy (or just survive) an opera. Includes plots, scraps of music, characters, premiere and other significant performances, and background information. (782.1)


The authors of the following books tell stories with strong connections to music. They use music as their theme, to provide insight to character and motivation, to create settings, or to spice up dialogue.

Bel Canto. Anne Patchett. (F Pat). 2001. A tragicomic novel about a cast of characters, including an opera singer, taken hostage in South Africa during a lavish dinner party and what happens to them afterwards.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ed.(F Doy). 1986. Whether finger-conducting from his seat at the symphony or drawing a bow across his Stradivarius, Sherlock Holmes’ love of music and mystery come together in such stories as The Red-Headed League, A Study in Scarlet, The Mazarin Stone, The Cardboard Box, The Solitary Cyclist, and many more. 

Emilie’s Voice: A Novel. Susanne Dunlap. 2005. A young Parisian with the voice of an angel is caught in a tug-of-war between the composer who discovered her and Louis XIV’s official court composer as they vie for her career and heart. Dunlap has a PhD in music history from Yale and studied writing at the Breadloaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, Vermont.

The Master Butchers Singing Club. Louise Erdrich. (F Erd). 2003. A German immigrant-butcher starts a singing club in Argus, North Dakota. The memorable characters grapple with love and loss, fear and trust, jealousy and devotion. The story extends from World I to World War II. 

Nature Girl. Carl Hiaasen. (F Hia). 1997. Choose this title or any of the other Hiaasen books in the library and you will be treated to an assortment of hysterical stereotypes stumbling through the wackiest crime fiction you’ll ever read. Hiaasen delights in sprinkling his stories with lyrics and songs that reveal character, setting, and provide motivation. Nowhere else will you find such outrageous stories and creative use of song.

The Painted Drum. Louise Erdrich. (F Erd). 2005. Faye Travers discovers a Native American drum and “without touching the instrument, she hears it sound.” Moving backward and forward through time, this story traces the history of the drum through the voices of those who owned it. It reveals the “strange power that lost children exert on the memories of those they leave behind . . . [and embodies] the intricate, transformative rhythms of human grief.” 

The Piano Tuner. Daniel Mason. (F Mas). 2002. This book follows a British piano tuner sent by his government to repair a piano amid war and rebellion in the jungles of Burma in 1886 where an unorthodox army surgeon-major hopes music will bring peace to the area. This is an unforgettable tale of passion, adventure, romance, and self-discovery.

The Remorseful Day: The Final Inspector Morse Novel. Colin Dexter. (F Dex). 1999. “Apart (of course) from Wagner, apart from Mozart’s compositions for the clarinet, Schubert was one of the select composers who could occasionally transport him to the frontier of tears.” There will be plenty of tears among readers as the beloved Chief Inspector Morse closes his final case in this popular series of modern-day British mysteries. The character of Inspector Morse is as much about his love of classical music as it is about his aching bones, sensitive stomach, and brilliant detection. The library has several Inspector Morse titles.

A Severed Wasp. Madeleine L’Engle. 1982. Readers will recognize characters from L’Enge’s previous novels in this dramatic story of adventure, mystery, terror, memories, and love as a retired concert pianist is “tested by tragedy and nourished by music.”

A Simple Habana Melody (from when the world was good). Oscar Hijuelos. (F Hij). 2002. Central to this story is the composer of a 1928 song that makes rumba famous worldwide. Then the war, a case of mistaken identity, and life in a concentration camp challenge and forever change his belief in his musical gifts, God, and his identity. Years later, as an old man, he returns to Cuba, revisits his childhood, and recalls his youthful dreams.

The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God. Timothy Schaffert. (F Sch). 2005. “An endearing misadventure that threatens to turn out right in spite of everything.” Driving an old school bus and accompanied by his 8-year old daughter, a divorced country-western songwriter searches for his son who ran away with The Daughters of God, a Gospel-punk band, and tries to reconcile with his wife.

Tishomingo Blues. Elmore Leonard. (F Leo). 2001. In a small Mississippi town a daredevil high-diver, a smooth-talking con man, a couple of strange but beautiful women, and haunting memories of the past examined through the Blues of Marvin Pontiac, T-Bone Walker, John Lee and B.B., Stevie Ray, Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson come together at a “crossroads” where bad guys collide at a Civil War re-enactment with a most improbable outcome. 

For Children and Teens 

Jabulani! Ideas for Making Music. Carol Shephard and Bobbie Stormont. (784). 1993. This book offers simple ideas for making music accessible and fun for all. No instruments? No problem. The authors guide readers through finding instruments, rhythm, voice, ways to bring music into other activities, and finding an end.

Music for Ones and Twos: Songs and Games for the Very Young Child. Tom Glazer. (784 G). 1954. Over thirty years of composing and performing for children have gone into this book of original and traditional musical scores and lyrics, some with black and white illustrations. Piano arrangements include chords for guitar, bango, etc.

Sonata #1 for Riley Red. Phoebe Stone. (jF Sto). 2003. A thirteen-year old who expresses herself through music has a group of misfits for friends, rescues stray cats, and tries to save a neglected circus elephant. A wonderful story for young teens about the desire to do one “extraordinary great deed.” The author is an award-winning Middlebury, Vermont writer and painter.

Song of Night: It’s Time To Go To Bed. Katherine Riley Nakamura and Linnea Riley. (E Nak). 2002. A bedtime story about the rituals and songs of different animals putting their young ones to bed. Beautiful illustrations and a delight for children.

A Symphony of Whales. Steve Schuch. (E Sch). 1999. This book for young reads was inspired by the true story of Beluga whales trapped in Senyavina Strait of Siberia. Told from the perspective of a child who hears the voice of Narna, the whale, this tale recreates the saving of whales by playing music. 

Music in Poetry

The Mentor Book of Major American Poets. Oscar Williams and Edwin Honig, eds.(811.08). 1962. Like music, poetry evokes an emotional response and expresses universal themes. The rhythm of poetry embodies the beat of music and the spoken words sound the tonal qualities of instruments. As you read through this collection of great American poetry, listen for the music in such poems as “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Arrow and the Song” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and many others.

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