music notes · stuff I read

Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day by Clemency Burton-Hill

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
‘Year of Wonder is an absolute treat – the most enlightening way to be guided through the year.’ Eddie Redmayne

Classical music for everyone – an inspirational piece of music for every day of the year, celebrating composers from the medieval era to the present day, written by award-winning violinist and BBC Radio 3 presenter Clemency Burton-Hill.

Have you ever heard a piece of music so beautiful it stops you in your tracks? Or wanted to discover more about classical music but had no idea where to begin?

Year of Wonder is a unique celebration of classical music by an author who wants to share its diverse wonders with others and to encourage a love for this genre in all readers, whether complete novices or lifetime enthusiasts.

Clemency chooses one piece of music for each day of the year, with a short explanation about the composer to put it into context, and brings the music alive in a modern and playful way, while also extolling the positive mindfulness element of giving yourself some time every day to listen to something uplifting or beautiful. Thoughtfully curated and expertly researched, this is a book of classical music to keep you company: whoever you are, wherever you’re from.

‘The only requirements for enjoying classical music are open ears and an open mind.’
Clemency Burton-Hill

When one’s mother is a church organist, one grows up with a pretty solid understanding of classical music. I started piano lessons with my mom when I was five and more formal lessons at age eight. I played the oboe and flute in band and sang in choir. And while I no longer perform, I do still practice (occasionally – see also: paraphrasing Elizabeth Bennet and the old saw about not playing as well as I would wish because I don’t actually practice as much as I should). Over the years I’ve amassed a rather sizable classical music collection covering all sorts of genres.

So, obviously I was pretty interested when Clemency Burton-Hill’s new book Year of Wonder came across my radar. A one-piece-per-day devotional, if you will, designed to dive deep into the classical music catalog. Sign me up. How much would be new to me and how much would I already know?

As it turns out, I was familiar with probably 25-30% of Burton-Hill’s recommendations. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, any opera aria except for a few of the very early-genre ones, anything by Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin I already knew. But starting with Hildegard von Bingen on January 3rd (yes, that Hildegard von Bingen who not only was an abbess and philosopher and who knows what all but was also a composer of monophonic songs in early Church music) I found so many “new” composers and less-familiar songs from favorites to track down. I am particularly deficient in late twentieth and twenty-first century composers, especially very new composers in their twenties and thirties such as Max Richter (who I know) and Ólafur Arnalds (who I had not heard, as far as I know, and I really need to).

Now, as with any list like this, a few of my favorites are missing. Some very familiar pieces like Rhapsody in Blue, the Enigma Variations, and any ballet music from Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev do not make an appearance. I was also surprised to Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul left off. However, Burton-Hill has very consciously tried to make an inclusive list to try and get outside the white/male boundaries classical music has tried to keep around itself. The genre has traditionally been very gate-keepy so a conscious effort to shine a light on women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ composers is very welcome. This is also a very wide-ranging selection through all sub-genres of classical music, from early Church mono- and polyphony, to settings of traditional folk songs, to Masses, symphonies, chamber music, jazz, ragtime, atonal, solo instrumental, and on and on and on.

What I do think this list needs are recommendations for which recording to listen to. Some more recent or less popular pieces, such as from Arnalds, will have few or only one recording to choose from but something like “Che gelida manina” from La Bohème will have hundreds available. For instance, when pulling tracks from my own collection I stopped counting versions of “Casta diva” from Norma at six and that was only the traditional recordings. I didn’t count any that had been arranged for instrumental-only or electronica-crossover versions. Although, Burton-Hill has curated playlists by month on Spotify and Apple Music – so if you use either of those services, search for “Clemency” (with the blue tick mark) in Spotify or “Year of Wonder” at Apple Music. I, however, am extra and like making work for myself so I’m pulling multiple versions, favorites, and complete works rather than movements to make my own playlist. It’s kind of exhausting but fun.

Year of Wonder is out October 30.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book from the publisher.

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mini-review · Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Counterpoint by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #2)

41808799Summary from Goodreads:
Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.

When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.

Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton

The Netgalley gods smiled upon me and granted me access to Counterpoint – and just in time since I was tearing through the end of Syncopation.

I was really intrigued by the character of Dom in the first book – a quiet, bookish guy who has created a “public” stage persona to handle the social pressure of being an emerging rock guitarist. I imagine that this is a problem that rears its head for a lot of musicians – how public is too public is you are a naturally private person or have social anxiety? I mean, I probably wouldn’t handle “getting photographed by paparazzi or randos while buying toilet paper at the store” levels of celebrity well. I can only imagine how intrusive that is and understand why the Lady Gagas of the world have such out-sized stage personalities.

Counterpoint opens as Dom is out at dinner, enjoying a book, when he makes the acquaintance of an attractive man, Adrian, who turns out to be a computer programmer for a bank and also has an interest in the book Dom is reading (vintage gay literature). A conversation leads to dinner, leads to a future date, leads to a very, very hot night of bondage and sex. Dom eventually decides to tell Adrian who he is, particularly that he’s an over-the-top Goth-ish killer guitarist for the hottest new rock band on the charts as opposed to the bookish, glasses-wearing twink he’s shown Adrian thus far. And this leads to a lot of soul searching on both their parts, how to be both private and public with their sexual preferences (both have suffered homophobia and Adrian, as a pansexual, has received some awful garbage from his family), and where they want this new relationship to go.

This is a fabulously well-crafted, kinky, queer romance. I do love quieter romances (plot-wise), ones where the tension in the relationship doesn’t come from outside forces like murder, shady dealings, society, etc. but from the stuff that each person brings to the relationship. A good relationship brings out the best of each person, and I think Zabo shows an absolutely lovely couple on the page.

Zabo lists some content warnings on her Goodreads “review” (covering specifics that I didn’t peg during my reading, but some readers might need to know about).

I do hope Zabo has a book planned for Mish, the last but certainly not least member of Twisted Wishes and the only woman, who really plays her sexuality close to her chest in Syncopation and Counterpoint so I look forward to seeing where she goes. (Mish is the bassist, she’s awesome.)

Counterpoint is out today.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley and I plan to buy it when it’s available.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Syncopation by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #1)

untitledSummary from Goodreads:

There’s no resisting the thrum of temptation in this male/male rock-star romance from genre-favorite author Anna Zabo!

Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton

I got pitched the second book in this series (Counterpoint, coming out in September, so keep your eyes peeled) and it sounded so damn good that I immediately bought Syncopation and inhaled it.

This novel is So. Good. It starts with an emerging rock band, Twisted Wishes, on the edge of stardom (think Fun. or a harder-edged version of Family Crest – this is kind of a music subgenre where I’m not super-up on what’s new) when a) their drummer quits/gets kicked out due to substance abuse and b) footage of the blowup ends up on the internet. They need a new drummer ASAP and none of the applicants do well until Zav shows up. Zav was a few years ahead of Ray and Dom, lead singer and guitarist respectively, in high school and in the intervening years has been a tympanist and the enfant terrible of the classical music scene. Except he’s now been fired from his gig due to an (ill-advised, in my opinion) relationship with his conductor and persona non grata in the symphonic community. Zav nails the audition and hits the ground running with the group’s upcoming tour.

Zabo captures the life of a an up-and-coming touring musician so well: the decidedly unglamorous tour bus life (no matter how swanky a bus), living out of hotels, the groupies, the shitty media and paparazzi presence that only increases as Twisted Wishes climbs the music charts. And speaking of things that increase…the sexual tension gets tighter and tighter. It is so bonkers that when Ray and Zav FINALLY get it on around the 50% mark I’m pretty sure that all the secondary characters sighed in relief right along with me. (So hot though. So hot. *fans self*) I kind of guessed the plot twist, but it was still a delicious denoument.

Definitely going to read the next book.

Update: Zabo lists some content warnings on her Goodreads “review” (covering specifics that I didn’t peg during my reading, but some readers might need to know about).

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.