Amherst Magazine

What They Are Reading

We asked Associate Professor of Music David Schneider what he has been reading—and listening to—lately. Here’s what he told us.

My reading for pleasure these days can be divided into three categories: books I’m reading with my 8-year-old daughter; books I’m reading because I’m embarrassed I haven’t read them before; and slightly trashy books having something to do with music or musicians.

The first category includes the Great Brain books (The Great Brain, More Adventures of the Great Brain and Me and My Little Brain) by John D. Fitzgerald. These books (from the 1960s and 1970s) concern the shenanigans of an immensely bright boy growing up in a small town in Utah in the 1890s. I remember loving the stories as a child. They are great fun to share with my daughter today. We also recently began reading Sherlock Holmes books together, but my daughter grew impatient with waiting until her next bedtime to have the mysteries solved, so she finished the books on her own.

The second category includes two 19th-century novels, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin—a much more substantive book than the criticism surrounding it had led me to believe—and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Somewhat outside of this category, I recently read my second-cousin Eva Thaddeus’s novel, Steps of the Sun (1997), while I was waiting not to be chosen for jury duty.

In the “trashy music” category, I recently picked up Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina (2001), by David Hajdu. I heard Joan Baez perform in Northampton two years ago, and she struck me as being every bit as fresh as I remember her from her records in the 1960s. Joan Peyser’s infamous and gossipy biography of Leonard Bernstein (Bernstein: A Biography, 1998) kept me mostly entertained on a recent cross-country flight.

In terms of listening, right now I’m in the midst of a Brahms and Weber phase. Over the last few months I’ve been memorizing Carl Maria von Weber’s First Concerto for Clarinet (1811), so I’ve been listening to recordings of it by clarinetists Johan Manasse, David Shiffrin and Sabina Meyer. I’ve also been listening to recordings of Weber’s clarinet music by Harold Wright, former principal clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, made at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont in the 1960s and 1970s. In preparation for performing Johannes Brahms’s Clarinet Trio, Op. 114 (1891), with colleagues in Buckley Recital Hall last week, I listened to recordings of the work by various clarinetists who collaborated with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Joseph Kalichstein. I’m planning a John Adams listening orgy to inspire me to work on his clarinet concerto, Gnarly Buttons (1996).