Meet the Musicians: From Prodigies (or not) to Pros

Meet the Musicians: From Prodigies (or not) to Pros

by Amy Nathan

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The musicians of the New York Philharmonic were kids once too!

How does a kid who just wants to play baseball make the transition to creating beautiful music?

Musicians from many different sections of the New York Philharmonic share how they became involved in music as kids and how their careers have progressed since then. They also have some helpful


The musicians of the New York Philharmonic were kids once too!

How does a kid who just wants to play baseball make the transition to creating beautiful music?

Musicians from many different sections of the New York Philharmonic share how they became involved in music as kids and how their careers have progressed since then. They also have some helpful advice, such as
• Break down pieces you're learning into small, reachable goals.
• Play it as beautifully as you can, even if it's just a scale.
• Make up words to go with the melody you're studying to learn it faster.

With exclusive interviews, helpful hints, and a kid-friendly approach, this book is an all-access guide to the world of classical music.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Meet the Musicians: From Prodigy (or Not) to Pro by Amy Nathan likely profiles just about any instrumentalist a young person might aspire to be, from cellists Carter Brey and Hai-Ye Ni to trumpet player Philip Smith to pianist Harriet Wingreen, all members of the New York Philharmonic, but whose stories speak to orchestra members everywhere. Each of the 15 brief biographies begins with bulleted facts: the age at which they began playing their instruments, pets, favorite books and activities, etc. Opening childhood photos of the subjects make each seem approachable: Sheryl Staples plays her violin on the stage of the Lawrence Welk Show (accompanied by her sister and mother); Jerry Ashby, a French horn player, swings a bat at music camp. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
This book tackles an often boring topic for students and teens by making it more personal and relaxed. It uses biographical interviews with members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, covering their instruments; practice schedules; musical experience and training as children, teens, and adults in college; why they chose the instrument they did; and what they love about their instruments like the piano, cello, violin, viola, and French horn. Each musician/instrument section includes a very brief introduction of each instrument, covering its sounds, techniques for playing, and use in an orchestra, along with the quotes, information, and photos from the musicians. The love and appreciation of classical and orchestral music comes across clearly and simply for a teen audience. An alphabetical organization by instrument or musician would be very helpful instead of the haphazardly arranged sections and the lack of an index. It is not an essential public library purchase but a nice addition to a music and arts collection where an accessible, conversational, and light introduction to classical instruments and orchestra is needed, either for middle and high school curriculum or teen community interest in this topic. It is a more important purchase for school libraries that have music classes, bands, or orchestras as part of their curriculum or extracurricular activities. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P J S (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Henry Holt, 160p.; Glossary. Photos. Charts. Biblio., Ages 12 to 18.
—Karen Sykeny
Children's Literature
It is not easy for children to focus on one thing and devote most of their free time to practicing and honing a particular skill. It is also not wise for children to focus on just one thing in their life. Childhood is the ideal time to try new things and to discover what their passion in life may be. For many of the musicians who play in the New York Philharmonic they discovered what instruments they most enjoyed playing when they were very young, but most of them also learned other instruments and enjoyed sports and other hobbies as well. But it was during childhood, and especially during their teen years, that they developed the talent and passion that would earn them their positions in the Philharmonic. Nathan has compiled brief biographies of some of the principal musicians in the Philharmonic and focuses on when and how they discovered the instruments that they would devote the rest of their lives to playing. While each biography emphasizes the time and devotion required to become a great musician, each musician takes care to point out that it is equally important to have other pastimes away from music. Each brief biography includes pictures of the musician as well as descriptions of the instrument they play, tips for practicing, and hints for what to watch for when attending a concert. 2006, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 7 to 12.
—Danielle Williams
School Library Journal
Gr 5-10-This collection of interviews with 15 musicians in the New York Philharmonic presents an in-depth look at what it takes to become a professional musician. Each biographical sketch acquaints readers with the personality of the performer and shows that these talented people are well rounded with interests that include sports and other hobbies. The focus throughout is on how they chose their instruments and became proficient enough to become part of this world-renowned orchestra. Many of them did not select their instrument until they were in their teens, and several began on a different instrument from the one that ultimately became their career choice. Three boxed sections accompany each interview, offering insight into the workings of the instrument, practice tips, and "concert watch," in which readers are advised about things to look for during a performance. Mediocre-quality black-and-white snapshots are scattered throughout. A final chapter on teamwork sheds light on the idiosyncrasies of playing in an orchestra. This title will appeal to a select audience, but it offers valuable information and encouragement to those for whom music performance holds appeal.-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nathan worked hard at making this compendium as lively and as compelling as possible. Fifteen current members of the New York Philharmonic each get a chapter, beginning with a childhood photograph, a list of fan-magazine facts-pets as a child, age when they began studying their instrument, where they grew up-with other sidebars highlighting the pros and cons of their instrument, practice tips and what to look for at live concerts. There's nothing dry or rote about this at all, and the narrative truly engages readers. Some of these musicians were gifted almost from birth; others discovered their talent and interest relatively late. Some came from several generations of musicians; others bemused their families (and sometimes themselves) with their passion. Each loves their own instrument best: cellos, violins, percussion, piano, wind instruments. They are male and female, of various ethnicities, and Nathan makes each and every one stand out as unique, even delightful, individuals. An excellent introduction to the real lives of those who play classical music. (glossary, resources, acknowledgments, index) (Collective biography. 9-12)

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.24(w) x 9.23(h) x 0.83(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Meet the Musicians



Age when he started cello: 12 (started violin at 9) Pet he had as a kid: Dog named Randolph Pets he has now: Cats named Ginger and Thomas Favorite books as a kid: Horatio Hornblower books by C. S. Forester Other activities as a kid: Running, sailing, swimming, taking flying lessons Other activities now: Running, sailing, playing with his kids Grew up in: Westchester County, New York Education: Peabody Institute; Yale University Before the Philharmonic: Cleveland Orchestra; freelance soloist Joined New York Philharmonic: 1996 as Principal Cello Music he listens to now when relaxing: Classical, jazz, pop, country



One day when Carter Brey was five years old, he was sick in bed with a bad cold. To cheer him up, his dad put on a new recording he had just bought. Carter's dad loved music. He wasn't a professional musician, but he liked to play the piano, just for fun.

The recording had a piece on it that had been written especially for kids: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra by British composer BenjaminBritten. It's a lively piece in which different instruments take turns being the main ones you hear. When it's the violins' turn to shine, they burst in with a fast-paced, rollicking tune. Their dazzling sound whizzes by, zooming up high and then sliding down low. Next come other string instruments: violas, cellos, and basses.




GOOD POINTS: "A cello's low, deep sound is easy on the ears. You don't have to worry about neighbors complaining when you practice because it's not very loud—an advantage over the trumpet," says Carter Brey.


BAD POINTS: "A cello's soft sound makes it difficult to be heard in a large hall," he says. "A cello is also big and hard to travel with," adds Hai-Ye Ni, another cellist you'll meet in this book. "I have to buy a ticket for my cello on airplanes. It sits in the seat next to me."

"I completely fell in love with the sound of those string instruments," Carter remembers. He decided he wanted to play a string instrument someday.

However, when he had his first chance to do so, things didn't work out right away. He was nine years old and in fourth grade. That's when kids at his elementary school could choose an instrument to play. He chose violin and joined a class with other beginners. Some beginners do well on violin right from the start. Not Carter. Instead of sounding like the wonderfulviolins on that recording he loved, for a long time he sounded very squeaky and scratchy. He was kind of discouraged. But he didn't give up.


"Violin is hard when you first start," Carter says. It wasn't like his dad's piano. With a piano, anyone can make a pretty good sound just by pressing a key. It's not so easy to make a good sound on a violin or other string instrument. You have to press on the strings with the fingers of one hand in exactly the right way—not too hard and not too soft. With your other hand, you have to hold a stick called a bow and get the hang of sliding it across the strings to make a sound.

"It was an uphill battle for me," says Carter. "I wasn't getting anywhere on that squeaky little thing." He kept at it all through elementary school, but he didn't practice often and didn't make much progress. When he moved on to junior high, he decided it was time for a change. He thought he might make nicer noises on something with a lower sound, such as a cello. So at age twelve, he asked the junior high music teacher if he could switch instruments.

Success at last! "I made a much better sound on the cello," Carter says. "I enjoyed it more than violin." But music still wasn't a big deal to him yet. There were so many other things he liked to do. He ran on the school's track team. He liked to go sailing with his dad and swimming with his friends. He spent a lot of timeexploring in the woods near his house with his dog, Randolph. He and a friend even took flying lessons at a nearby airport.

"I continued with group cello lessons in school, using one of the school's cellos. I played in the school orchestra, just muddling along," he says. "But I didn't practice much. My parents didn't bug me to practice, either. Cello was just a mild interest—until I was fifteen. Then it became a passion."


What turned him around? "I discovered how great music for cello could be," he recalls. He was in high school by then. The school's music teacher divided the students into groups and had them play chamber music, pieces that are written for small numbers of players. "The pieces were way too hard for us," Carter says. But he loved the challenge of trying to master such great works.


SMALL CHUNKS: "Break down a piece you're learning into small goals," says Carter Brey. "For example, decide to learn just one page today. Or take one phrase and see how perfect you can make it today. Then go on to the next page or phrase tomorrow. If you break down a task into small parts like that, it's a much easier burden to bear. You'll make more progress, too."

"There was one piece we played that made me realize I couldn't live without music in my life." That was the beautiful String Quintet in C Major by Austrian composer Franz Schubert. It's written for five instruments: two cellos, two violins, and a viola. After he started learning to play this quintet in school,he bought a recording of it. "It was thrilling to come home and put that record on my little portable record player and hear the incredible sound of that piece. It was a mind-blowing experience. I decided that I was going to become a musician."

That was a big decision for a teenager who hadn't been practicing much, knew little about music, and wasn't even very good on his instrument. "I knew I could do it. Don't ask me how. I just knew."

Through friends, he found a private cello teacher to study with outside of school. He had his first lesson with her right after his sixteenth birthday. "I had to start over from the beginning," he says. "It didn't discourage me. I was ready to make the commitment to getting good on the instrument. She taught me how to practice. She started me on a steady diet of scales and études [technical exercises]. I didn't find it boring. Isaw it was helping. I couldn't wait to get home and work on this stuff."


"People are amazed that I didn't start private cello lessons until I was sixteen," he says. Many musicians (including ones you'll meet in this book) start private lessons when they're much younger. "But sixteen is young enough that if you have a very strong desire to excel, you still can," Carter explains. "With a five-year-old,if the child isn't really interested, private lessons aren't going to have much effect. Yes, I was sixteen, but I was passionate and self-motivated. It was my decision."

He started practicing every day. "I would get up early and practice before school. I practiced during school, too, whenever I had a study hall period," he recalls. After school, he had a job cleaning up at a music store. Then he would come home, do his homework, and practice cello some more. His parents saw how serious he had become and bought him his own instrument.

To make room for all this extra practicing, he stopped his flying lessons. He dropped out of the track team, too. But he kept running on his own for fun, and he kept sailing. Running, sailing, and flying taught him things that wound up helping him with music. "Getting through a difficult cello performance takes concentration and pacing yourself, just like running a marathon," he explains. "Sailing is about balance and making judgments, a combination of art and science. So is flying. So is music."


When Carter was seventeen, it was time to think about college. He wanted to go to a conservatory, a special school just for music. His parents weren't sure that was wise. They weren't musicians. They didn't know if hewas good enough to make it in the world of music. "When I won a scholarship to go to a major music conservatory, they realized I knew what I was doing," says Carter.


Next time you're at an orchestra concert, watch what cellists do with the endpin, the metal spike that sticks out of the bottom of a cello. Many cellists stick the endpin into a little cup at the end of a belt-like holder that attaches to the leg of their chair to keep the cello from slipping while they play. Carter Brey does that when performing in private homes or in places with stone floors. But at the Philharmonic's concert hall in New York City, he just jams the endpin right into the stage's wooden floor. "The orchestra managers beg us not to, but we do it anyway," he says. "It's nice to be able to jam the point into the floor and make the tiny adjustments in angle this allows you." However, until you become principal cellist in an orchestra like the Philharmonic, it's probably wise to keep using that belt-like holder.

After studying cello at this conservatory—the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland—he did more cello studies at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Then he landed a job as a cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra in Ohio. Two years later, he won a prize in an important international cello competition. That gave him the courage to quit the Cleveland job and set out on his own as a soloist, someone who plays as a special guest artist with different orchestras. For fourteen years he was a soloist with some of the most famous orchestras in the world.

He was always traveling to different cities to play in concerts. That was fun at first. But after he married and had kids, he didn't want to be away from his family so much. Luckily, a cello job opened up at the New York Philharmonic. He tried out for it and in 1996 won the job of being the orchestra's principal cello. That means he's the leader of the cello section.

He still plays as a soloist now and then, sometimes with the Philharmonic or with other orchestras. The Philharmonic gives him time off to do this. But for most of the year he is with his wife and kids in New York City, performing with the Philharmonic. "I still practice every day," he says, "and I still love the cello's sound."

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Meet the Author

Amy Nathan is the award-winning author of several books, including The Young Musician's Survival Guide. She lives in Upstate New York

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