Mountain Solo
  • Mountain Solo
  • Mountain Solo

Mountain Solo

4.6 3
by Jeanette Ingold

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Ever since Tess revealed her musical genius at age three, every choice in her life has been made for her. She's been moved to New York, enrolled in a special school, given the best violin teachers, and told when to practice and for how long. But no one ever told Tess what to do if she failed. . . .
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Ever since Tess revealed her musical genius at age three, every choice in her life has been made for her. She's been moved to New York, enrolled in a special school, given the best violin teachers, and told when to practice and for how long. But no one ever told Tess what to do if she failed. . . .

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The characters are likeable, and their love of music shines through . . . For anyone fascinated by the power of music and its effects on individual[s]."—School Library Journal

"Tess's passion and struggle for her music sing melody, harmony, and detail."—Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ingold (The Big Burn; The Window) offers a perceptive study of a prodigy violinist undergoing a painful transition. The story begins shortly after 16-year-old Tess is devastated by her first failure, on stage during her first major performance with a professional orchestra. As she faces an uncertain future, she reconsiders her past. She returns to her childhood home in Montana to spend time with her recently remarried father, and begins to rethink her goals and priorities. Tess's story emerges through a series of flashbacks depicting her first violin lessons as a four-year-old, her first formal recital at age nine and her experiences at a prestigious New York City school for gifted performers. Her growth as a musician is interwoven-not always smoothly-with the history of another violinist from Montana, who walked the same path that Tess follows during the hiking trip with her father, her new stepmother (an archeologist researching that violinist) and nine-year-old stepsister. While reliving the turning points in her childhood and pondering the fate of the other violinist, Tess achieves some important insights into herself, her domineering mother and the options still open to her. Tess's fears and uncertainties are convincing, but readers will be most strongly moved by her unfaltering love of music. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Tess is a child prodigy on the violin, unusual since she is growing up far away from cultural centers—she lives near Missoula, Montana, where her father is a veterinarian. Tess's mother recognizes her little girl's talent early on and pushes for all the right teachers, even to the point of taking Tess to live in New York City, where she can attend special schools, even though this means destroying their little family. The story focuses (and begins) at a point in Tess's life when she is realizing her dreams, performing at 17 with a German symphony; she plays poorly and then faces a kind of emotional breakdown. The subsequent story unfolds, telling how Tess got to this place in her life and her career as a musician, and where she will go from this failure. She leaves her mother and goes to live with her father in Montana, with his new family, and enjoys a "normal" life for a change, without spending hours every day practicing her violin. Her stepmother is a historian who is interested in early homesteads in Montana, and this links to a story about a violin player, Frederick, who homesteaded there in the early part of the 20th century. Hiking in the mountains, uncovering some facts about Frederick's life, helps Tess understand what she wants for herself—she chooses to continue as a musician, back in New York City, but on her own terms. The strength of the story is the development of Tess's character, her love of music, the choices she is forced to make because of her talent. The parallel story (though much briefer) of Frederick and the choices he made decades before Tess are interesting, but not always so apparently connected to Tess's story, so the reader has to be patient. Ingold lives inMontana and she makes it vividly real for her readers. The Big Burn, another of her YA novels, is also set there. She grew up in New York City, so that part of Tess's story is also carefully depicted. The bibliography lists books about music and musicians and also books about Montana history and archaeology. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Harcourt, 307p. bibliog.,
— Claire Rosser
Children's Literature
Tess Thaler is a violin prodigy coming to terms with talent and failure during a pivotal summer in Montana, away from the world of serious music. The story opens at the high moment of her young career, her first experience as a soloist, at age sixteen, with an orchestra in Germany. After a disastrous performance, Tess flees New York, her prestigious music school and her mother, who is the driving force behind her music studies. She literally flies home to Missoula, where her father, a veterinarian, lives with Meg, a new, engaging stepmother, who is an archaeologist with the Forest Service, and nine-year-old Amy, a pesky stepsister of average talents who idolizes Tess. Here Tess reflects back over her life, from the earliest hint of her gift all the way forward to the concert in Germany. Meticulously crafted and well researched, the story conveys the impact of extraordinary talent upon a child and a family. Interwoven with Tess' narrative is the tale of a second violinist, Frederick Bottner, who lived in Montana a century before her. In 1905, the orphaned Frederick traded the promise of studying violin with an uncle in Germany for a chance to farm a homestead in Montana with another uncle. On a backpacking trip with her father, Amy and Meg, Tess helps to uncover the remains of Frederick's homestead in the Rattlesnake Wilderness. As the two violinists' stories cross, their respective choices about the role music will play in their lives resonate in a memorable narrative. 2003, Harcourt, Ages 10 up.
—J. H. Diehl
Two characters' stories are skillfully intertwined in this well-researched and well-written book. Frederik is a young German American of the early 1900s who must decide where to live following the death of his parents. Interestingly, one uncle lives in the Montana wilderness, but the other uncle who lives in Germany would be able to offer violin lessons to Frederik. Tess is a modern-day young sixteen-year-old girl whose parents are divorced. She and her mother live in New York City so that Tess can further her music career. She has been playing the violin since she was three, a proclaimed prodigy. Her father, while supporting Tess's playing, has reservations about how Tess has been pushed by her mother. After a disastrous concert in Germany, Tess returns to Montana where her father is a veterinarian, unsure that she wants to continue playing the violin. Through Meg, her father's new wife, she meets Katharina, Frederik's daughter, who is now in her nineties. Meg is an archeologist with the U.S. Forest Service and is trying to locate Frederik's original homestead. Through the search for the homestead in the Montana forests and Tess's search for where and how to continue her life, Tess's and Frederik's stories are juxtaposed. The characters are well defined and real, the prose is lyrical, and the intertwined stories are masterfully written. This title is not for everyone, but a selected audience will enjoy the forest, the wildlife, and the music that is described in these pages. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Harcourt, 316p., $17. Ages11 to 15.
—Susan Allen
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Ingold explores the highs and lows of musical genius. Tess, 16, a violin prodigy since age 3, studies at an exclusive New York school, and is destined to become a virtuoso. However, after a disastrous performance at a recital in Germany, she abandons her violin and flees to Montana to spend the summer with her father and his new wife, an archaeologist searching for clues about early pioneer life in the area. As Tess gets drawn into the mystery of Frederik Bottner, who, she discovers, also played the violin, she is finally able to embrace the healing power of music, as well as her own destiny. Ingold alternates the stories of Frederik and Tess in a successful integration of contemporary and historical fiction. Both narratives are well paced and the transitions are never jarring. The characters are likable, and their love of music shines through. Mountain Solo is a good read for anyone fascinated by the power of music and its effects on individuals' lives.-Ronni Krasnow, New York Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a strikingly beautiful scene, Tessie, not yet six, hears a Mozart symphony she’s never heard before, transcribes it into colors in her head, crayons it onto page after page, and is then able to play it on her violin. The limits and benefits of being raised as a prodigy color her life until she is 16, when she freezes and plays poorly in a high-profile solo concert. Back in Montana with her calm father, Tess reacquaints herself with the land she grew up on and gets to know her new stepmother and adoring stepsister. Another story about a violin, in alternating chapters, features a teenager named Frederick who lived on nearby Montana land several generations earlier. Frederick’s story is less compelling than Tess’s, and Tess’s narrow-minded, ambitious mother is written too simply, but Tess’s passion and struggle for her music sing melody, harmony, and detail. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.71(d)
810L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


My mother and I returned to New York the next day, and now, two weeks later, barely into July, I'm on a late-night plane to Montana and still burning with shame. And no closer to understanding how I could have failed.

All I know is that it will never happen again. I'm taking my violin as far away as I can from everything that put me on that stage.

My throat tightens as I hold down the tears that have been hovering this whole flight out. What if Mom's right, and at sixteen years old I'm making the biggest mistake of my life?

As the plane nears Missoula, passengers lean toward cold windows, and I recognize a moonlit summer valley an instant before someone says, "We're coming in over the Rattlesnake."

Scattered lights-one of them must be my dad's house-merge into the close-packed ones of downtown. Not very many lights, really, and dark mountains ring the bright basin like a cord pulled tight.

The hardest thing was getting Mom to believe I was serious. "Leave your violin teacher? Drop out of music school?" Are you crazy? her tone implied. Then she changed arguments. "And how can you want to live with a stepfamily you haven't even met?"

I didn't know how to answer her; I never do, but for once I didn't give in, either. On my own, I had called Dad for a plane ticket and sorted my things into what I'd take with me and what I'd have sent on later.

If I have them sent on. I couldn't tell Mom I was already worrying that staying away from New York might be harder than remaining. She'd have grabbed on to a weakness like that and enlarged it until I'd be back right where she wanted me.

Now, as we angle down to the runway, I think about Mom seeing me off from La Guardia Airport earlier today.

She was so silently angry, I wasn't sure she'd even say good-bye. But she'd suddenly touched the violin case I was clutching. "At least you're taking that with you," she said, and for a brief instant she really seemed to want to understand.

I wish I could have explained. Could have offered something better, anyway, than only telling her, "I couldn't leave it behind."

Though that's the truth. I couldn't.

Dad's tall enough that I easily spot him amid the airport confusion. "Hey!" I yell, running to him for a hug. He looks so welcoming with his arms open wide that I have to fight back a sudden urge to cry. "Hey," I say, and I hang on to his neck a moment before stepping back.

His gaze shifts to a girl rapidly weaving her way through the crowd. Amy, I think, recognizing her from photos. Without slowing down she looks over her shoulder, hollers, "Mom, she's here!" and rams into the edge of a display case. Her mouth opens in surprise when she sees the huge grizzly bear towering inside.

I hurry over with Dad, who asks, "You all right? No permanent damage? The bear didn't bite?"

The poor kid's face is crimson with embarrassment.

"I don't see any puncture marks," I joke, hoping to make her laugh. Then I add, "I'm happy to meet you, Amy. I'm Tess."

She shoots me a mortified glance and barely mumbles a hello.

"And I'm Meg," someone says, and I turn to meet Dad's new wife. She's taller than I'd pictured; fit looking; wears her hair, black like Amy's but faded, loosely caught behind her head. She says, "We are so glad you're here, Tess."

I offer her my hand to shake, but she laughs and hugs me. A real hug, not at all like one of Mom's, which doesn't mess up hairstyles and makeup. Meg hugs as though she means it.

AS WE DRIVE away from the airport, I think about how you hear that a man sometimes marries the same woman twice. The same kind of woman. I suppose that deep down that's what I expected Dad to have done, but my brief impression of Meg is that she's as different from Mom as comfortable jeans are from a tailored silk suit. Which is both reassuring and scary, because Mom, at least, I'm used to.

I look over at my stepsister, who's huddled in her corner of the backseat, apparently still embarrassed over her collision with the display case. I tell her, "If you moved that grizzly bear to New York, somebody would build a whole museum around it."

She makes a small noise that could be a sniff or a giggle.

I tell her, "You make the third Amy that I know. There are two in my school."

She whispers, "Dancers."

Surprised, I ask, "How did you know that?"

She shrugs, and I'm thinking there are easier things than trying to talk with a nine-year-old when suddenly she says, "We're going backpacking."


"Us. Day after tomorrow. Pop bought a new tent just for you and me."

Pop? I wonder, and then I realize she means Dad.

Amy's voice turns anxious. "Is that okay?"

"Sharing a tent? Yes, but...Dad?" I say, leaning forward. "Is that right? I was expecting to have some time-"

Amy asks, "Don't you want to go?"

"It's not that," I answer. "I'm just surprised."

Meg says, "The timing's my doing. Part of the reason we're going is to pin down the location of an old homestead site while there's still enough summer left to do a good follow-up."

For a second I don't know what she's talking about, and then I remember. She's a historian-an archaeologist, actually-with the Forest Service. I ask, "So this will be a working vacation?"

"Partly," she answers. "For me."

"Got it," I say.

I'd just as soon not get to know my new family under circumstances that throw us together every minute, but working vacations are one thing I understand. It will just be odd to watch someone else do the work.

I sleep in the guest room since Amy's taken over mine and wake up the next morning to clear sunshine and different sounds than I'm used to. Here there're no horns or sirens; there's no city roar.

The nightstand clock says 11:30-I never sleep so late!-and I realize Dad and Meg must have left for work hours ago. I listen for Amy and then remember her mentioning something about spending the day with a friend. Getting out of the unfamiliar bed, I feel oddly out of place, and the sensation grows as I go through the house, looking at it in a way that I couldn't last night. I know I've got a right to be here, but there's just enough difference from how it used to be to make me feel like an intruder.

Things I expect to see are gone, replaced by things that I don't know, like a new countertop in the bathroom. And framed pictures from the Hawaii wedding that Mom decided I shouldn't attend because, she said, I couldn't afford the time.

I pause at the doorway to Dad and Meg's room, which still has the furniture from when it was his and Mom's. It's been rearranged, though, and the patterned wallpaper and heavy drapes are gone. Now it's just dark wood, white walls, and uncovered windows looking out at trees hung with a half-dozen bird feeders.

The changes are jolting-as though I closed my eyes on the past and opened them to find it changed-and they remind me how little I know about my new stepmother. It takes effort to push down a worry that we might not get along.

When I get to my old room, though, I burst out laughing. Amy's version of leaving it neat was to pile a foot-high heap of stuff on her bed and cover it with the spread. I pick up a stray sock and shove it in with her other things.

And then I see the pictures under the glass top of her desk, and my stomach does a little flip-flop. It's a collage of photos cut from a teen magazine article about my academic school, which is just for kids who are studying to be performing artists or already have professional careers. Amy has mounted them on colored paper and used gold ink to write in our names and what we do.

I trace the faces through the glass and wonder if I'll ever see them again.

There's one of Kiah, Eleni, and both Amys in their leotards and ballet slippers. And there's me with my violin, standing next to Kendall, whom I'd just as soon not see again.

I find the group shot that's my favorite. Ben, my best friend in all the world, is in the middle of it, one hand supporting his cello and an expression on his face like he'd rather be playing it than posing.

Ben doesn't even know I've left New York. Besides cello, he plays a pretty good string bass, and when I got back from Germany he was already off on his summer job, touring New England with a jazz group. He called four or five times, but I let him talk to the answering machine.

Out of habit I glance at my watch and calculate the practice time left in the day. Then I remember I don't have to do that anymore. The whole afternoon and evening lie wide open, with no new music for me to learn and nothing old to polish. I can leave my violin case closed the way it has been for the past two weeks.

The sheer freedom makes me feel a little giddy.

Or maybe I'm just hungry, I think. Should I have breakfast or lunch?

In the kitchen I drink orange juice while looking at another photo. This one, which is on the refrigerator door, is of me when I was three and a half, or almost. I'm wearing a bathrobe and cradling my new violin the way I might a doll. Mom's neatly printed label has almost faded away, but I can still make it out. I was Tessie back then. Occasionally still am.

Then I spot a note from Dad propped against a cereal bowl. "I'll pick you up at lunchtime-noon sharp-so we can buy you some camping gear."

I start to hurry down the hall and then have to backtrack to answer the phone.

"Tess," Mom says, "why didn't you call and tell me you'd arrived safely? Anyway, I want you to know that I've spent the entire morning straightening out the mess you left behind."

"I didn't leave a mess."

"Most importantly, I've gotten your violin teacher to understand that you're on a needed mental health break-"

Mental health break! "But that's not true! Why would you tell Mr. Stubner that?"

"So he'll keep a place in his schedule. I'm keeping doors open for you."

"You had no right."

"But they won't stay open forever, so don't dawdle too long in coming to your senses. And don't let up on your practicing. You don't want to get further behind than you can help."

My gaze swings to the microwave display that says 11:48. I think, Dad will be here in twelve minutes. Again I calculate the hours I have left in the day. It's a habit hard to break, and I feel guilty for even trying to. Or maybe the unsettled feeling inside me is dismay at how easy it would be to give in to Mom.

I know that if I stay on the phone with her, she'll soon be telling me what music to work on. And then, before I know how she's made it happen, I'll be on another airplane, on my way back to New York and a life I don't want anymore.

Making my voice steady, I say, "I can't practice for several days at least because we're going on a camping trip. I'll call when we get back."

And then I hang up.

I take a fast shower, throw on some clothes, and am in the driveway pulling my hair into a ponytail when Dad drives up.

Shopping with him is a fast affair. It takes us ten minutes at one store to get a sleeping bag to replace the one I outgrew years ago-Amy will use that-and fifteen minutes at another to pick out an internal-frame pack that looks as if it will hold a lot more than I want to carry. I'm kind of stunned at the size of the checks he has to write, but he says they're part early happy birthday-my birthday's three weeks away-and part welcome-home gift.

Lunch is milkshakes and onion rings, which used to be our secret treat. Then Dad has to get back to his veterinary clinic. He tells me, "If you wouldn't mind getting a ride home with Meg, it will save me some driving."

"Isn't she working?" I ask.

"She has an appointment at a nursing home out this way and then is taking off early to get things ready for tomorrow."

"What's she doing at a nursing home?"

"She didn't say. Just called to suggest I drop you off there."

"I'M SUPPOSED TO meet Meg Thaler," I tell a man at the front desk.

"Dr. Thaler?" he asks, and I almost say no before I remember she is one, a Ph.D. doctor. "She got here just ahead of you," he says, gesturing down a long hall.

Spotting Meg toward the far end, I hurry and catch up with her as she pauses in a doorway. She gives me a smile while speaking to someone I can't see. "Miss Bottner?" she says.

"I wanted to let you know I'm here," I whisper. "I'll wait in the lobby."

"Please stay," she tells me. "Miss Bottner?" she says again, stepping inside. "Katharina?"

Meg motions me into the room, where a woman sits at a window. Even though her back is toward us, she gives the impression of being very old. And when she reaches for the controls to make her wheelchair circle around, I see scars, darkened and puckered with age, stretching across fingers that strain to work the buttons.

Once she's facing our way, she urges, "Sit down, sit down. And tell me who you are. Someone said, but I do forget..."

"I'm Meg Thaler," Meg says, "and this is my stepdaughter, Tess."

"Well, tell her to sit, too," the woman says.

There's only one visitor's chair, so I take up a place on the floor where I can lean back against a bureau.

Meg says, "I work for the Forest Service, and one of my projects is locating the place where you grew up. It's probably the last undocumented homestead site in the Rattlesnake, and..."

Katharina Bottner listens attentively to the explanation, but when Meg says, "I was hoping you could tell me some landmarks to look out for," Katharina replies with, "Are you the girl come to give me my bath?"

Meg's cheeks turn a faint pink. "No," she says, and starts over with a simpler explanation.

Katharina interrupts to ask me, "And who are you again?"

"Tess Thaler," I say.

"And you?" she asks Meg.

"I'm Meg Thaler, from the Forest Service." Meg touches Katharina's hand, and again I notice the scars. "Katharina, it would really help me to know about where you grew up. Do you remember if your parents farmed the land?"

Sudden humor sparkles in Katharina's eyes. "They certainly didn't run a store on it. Wouldn't have had any customers but wild animals."

Meg chuckles but pushes on. "Do you remember what buildings you had? Besides a house? A barn, perhaps?"

"Certainly we had a barn," Katharina says. "If I could, I'd ask Papa to show you." She halts, appearing puzzled, as though she's trying to pull together some thought. Then she shakes her head. "But I haven't seen him in a long time."

Meg waits a few moments, and then she says, "Your father was a violin player, wasn't he?"

"I haven't seen him in a long time," Katharina repeats. She looks down at her hands. "He would have taught me to play, you know, only of course there was the dynamite. My own fault for wandering off. I'd been told."

"Dynamite?" Meg asks as I shudder at the image of a little kid being hurt by explosives. But Katharina is done talking about it. And when Meg tries to direct the conversation back to the homestead, Katharina starts talking about the young robins outside her window.

We thank her for seeing us and are saying good-bye when the puzzled expression returns to her face. Then it dissolves as she apparently finds the thought she was after. "I do have something of Papa's you can look at."

She rolls her wheelchair to a closet, slides open the door, and nods toward a shelf crammed with bags and boxes. "It's up there," she says, looking at me. "You'll have to move some things."

Meg motions for me to go ahead, and I'm about to ask what I should be looking for when I see the unmistakable shape of a violin case. I pull it down and set it on the bed. "Your father's?" I ask.

"That's what I said," Katharina answers.

"May I open it?"

"You won't see it unless you do."

As I ease back the worn, stiff latches, Meg says, "Tess is a violinist herself."

Katharina says, "Papa called it a fiddle."

The hinges squeak when I lift the lid, and the mingled scents of rosin, old wood, and decaying fabric rush out. The violin that rests on the case's crushed-velvet lining has one peg that looks different from the others, and two of its strings are missing.

"Will you play a piece?" Katharina asks.

I draw a finger over the instrument's curved, finely crackled surface, sad to have to tell her, "I'd like to, but this isn't in any shape to play."

"Oh." The single word is soft with disappointment.

"I'm sorry," I tell her. "What kind of music did your father play?"

"Every kind you can name. Square-dance music and hymns and old-timey things like 'Go Tell Aunt Rhody.' One year when every one of our lambs lived right to market, Mama even bought him a book of music so he could learn some different pieces. That's when he learned 'Danny Boy.'" Katharina's eyes focus on a point in midair. "What I liked best, though, were his woods sounds."

"What were those?" I ask.

"Oh, just one thing and another we'd hear. Birds singing, owls, like that." Frowning, she looks at the instrument and makes a small humphing noise in her throat. "Well, put it away." She reaches for the buttons of her wheelchair. "You'd better go now. I'm tired."

We're in the hall when Katharina calls us back. "Girl," she says to me, "what's your name again?"


"Did you come here by train?"

"Come to...?" I hesitate, wondering if she means to the nursing home and not sure it's polite to call it that.

"To Montana, of course," she says. "Papa came by train, carrying that fiddle all the way from South Dakota."

"You were with him?"

"Why, he was just a boy. I wasn't even born!" She chuckles. "The idea!"

Copyright © 2003 by Jeanette Ingold

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Meet the Author

JEANETTE INGOLD is the author of several acclaimed novels, including Pictures, 1918 and Airfield. She lives and writes in Montana.

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Mountain Solo 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is about people who found there dreams in music. the story is great, the story line kept me from geting bore,but there are parts where i did get bored, but i do recommended it to those that are inspired to become an entertainer and wants some advices. this is a good book to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this book was good for people who play the violin
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! Really good! :) Anybody who is passionate about something will be able to relate to Tess.