Red Fern Book Review

The Prague Sonata

May 17, 2021 Amy Mair Season 1 Episode 14
Red Fern Book Review
The Prague Sonata
Show Notes Transcript

Music teacher and facilitator Cynthia Friesen drops by the podcast to chat about music, memory and healing. The phone rings, the doorbell chimes, but Amy's dogs are eerily silent this episode. Cynthia and Amy remember Bevelry Cleary and Cynthia recommends an app for calm and focus.

Books and Resources discussed:
Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
VIBE: Calm, Focus, Sleep (App)
The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Possession by A.S. Byatt
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
The Undoing, HBO
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Admission, movie
Awesome Music Project: Songs of Hope and Happiness by Robert Carli and Terry Stuart
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Bach: The Goldberg Variations album by Glenn Gould
Mend The Living by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
Bedside Table Books blog
Lost Immunity by Daniel Kalla

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Amy Mair:

Do you think we can get our book club to read Prague Sonata? That's the most important thing.

Cynthia Friesen:

Oh, yes, please. And then I could be like an advisor, I could explain the bits that people might not understand.

Amy Mair:

Hello, welcome back to the Red Fern Book Review. I'm your host, Amy Mair. And today, I'm joined by my friend Cynthia Friesen, who's a music teacher. And most importantly, she's a member of my book club. So I'm going to tell you a little bit about her. And first of all, she attended the Royal Conservatory in Toronto where she studied voice and piano. She's worked professionally in radio and television. And she currently is a music teacher, where she directs the choral programs at St. James Music Academy. And she's also a music facilitator with the BC Brain Wellness Program in Vancouver. And I've talked to her at length. And actually, I'm really grateful to Cynthia because I have to say just about everybody I've had on this podcast, I've had to wrangle them on the podcast in some way, except for Geoff and Cynthia who were keen from the beginning to kind of help me get started and do what they could. And of course, it is no surprise that Cynthia really wanted to talk about music. So I'm gonna lean on her a lot today, because I don't know, as I've mentioned in a previous episode, music isn't totally my jam. But I'm open to it. I want to learn more. Today, we're going to talk about the historical fiction novel The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow. And then we're also going to talk about a collection of music stories called the

Awesome Music Project Canada:

Songs of Hope and Happiness. But before we get started, before we get into the books, I actually have Cynthia with me right now. We're going to talk about a couple of things that I'm reading and an app that Cynthia really likes. So first, I wanted to welcome Cynthia. Hi, Cynthia.

Cynthia Friesen:

It's so good to be here.

Amy Mair:

Thanks for joining. So, the first thing I want to talk about is our current book club selection, which is in honor of Beverly Cleary who recently passed away. We had decided to read a book in her honor. And we are currently reading Ramona and her Father. And I'm really enjoying it, I knew that I would enjoy it for the nostalgia piece, butit's fun to look at it through adult eyes and pick up different things. And I'm wondering, Cynthia, what do you think of it?

Cynthia Friesen:

I thought exactly the same thing. I found myself kind of remembering the bits of Ramona and Her Father that really resonated with 9/10 year old me like my own father was trying to quit smoking when I was that age. And I remember all those little Thank You For Not Smoking stickers around our house that were from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. And Ramona, you know, she just takes things into her own hands. She literally just takes her father's pack of cigarettes. And I remember thinking, yeah, I guess I could do that too. But now you also kind of looking at it through your adult eyes. And, and there are parts in the book where I guess it's Beezus her sister is writing this creative writing project and she's really nervous about it. And Ramona just takes her hand through it. And and it was just like, yes, we're going to go talk to the neighbor. And, and then with her friend, like, she's just making tin cans, stilts, an all the worries in her life go away, because she's making music and she feels joy. And that just, I mean, it never struck me as a young reader, but boy, now it really resonates.

Amy Mair:

Yeah, I really like how each chapter is a little escapade. I think maybe if it wasn't like that I might lose my interest and, and I like how, you know, there are people that are bad but at the end of the day, there's there's that umbrella of love, but they get into trouble and it Takes a takes young people's problem seriously, which I think as an adult, we don't always do, particularly if it's like, what we can see now, a minor thing,

Cynthia Friesen:

It"s so true. And I think Beverly Cleary, that was her gift, right? It was real people, real problems. And so you could kind of get lost in that. And and I just really enjoyed rereading it.

Amy Mair:

It was a great idea. That's fun. Okay, so the second thing, Cynthia has an app that she tells me is going to calm me down and help me sleep. So tell me more.

Cynthia Friesen:

I am totally excited about this. I actually even leaned in on it this morning,

Amy Mair:

That is one of Cynthia's favorite phrases. By the way.

Cynthia Friesen:

I was just, I was like, Okay, I want to focus I want to be energized for today. And so I just what you do...

Amy Mair:

What's the app called?

Cynthia Friesen:

It's called Vibe by The Lucid project. And the reason I found out about it is because my oldest daughter's partner, he knows the work that I do in the spheres of music, wellness. And he's like, you know, I've got this childhood friend who's an advisor, a scientific advisor for this new app. And I've been involved literally, since the beta phases, phases, they've let me be a part of it kind of as someone to give them feedback. But if you go into the app, the first page, you see different emotional or mood goals that you might have, like you would like to sleep better, or you'd like to be calmed, or you'd like to be energized or focused. And then you identify how you currently feel. You can then choose immersive, or you can choose wander, which is kind of like you're busy doing other things, but sometimes immersive I love because you just close your eyes, and you can choose four to eight minutes. It doesn't have to be a big time commitment. But the app will find and choose music that really kind of guides you from the emotional state you're in to the one you want to be in. And there's a lot of science that goes into it. There's a lot of research in this realm right now. So I just think it is incredibly current. And I use it often. So I recommend it highly it.

Amy Mair:

I'll check that out. Okay, so let's get to the books. And the first book we're going to talk about is the Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow. And, Cynthia, why don't you tell us what this is about.

Cynthia Friesen:

there is such hope in a search, right? This book is all about a search to bring together three movements of a sonata, which were separated during the Second World War, in order to protect it. And one of the main characters decides that she's going to give one movement to her boyfriend at the time, one movement to her best friend at the time and keep one herself and then hope that the universe would allow those to come together again, one day on the other side of the war. The book really takes you through a lot of political turmoil in the 20th century. The one woman actually inherits the entire manuscript from her father who fought in the First World War. And so she was left an orphan. And really, this manuscript was the one thing she had. I'm not going to tell you who they determined to be the composer, but that's a big mystery piece that weaves throughout the entire novel. And there's just there is hope and resilience for the main characters as they truly find themselves as they find the movements of the Sonata.

Amy Mair:

I was kind of chuckling a little bit as I got into the book because I just thought this is so you on every level this book. Music is the centerpiece of course. It's intellectual. There's a little bit of a love story. It's academic, there's history and meaning. And it can be a little bit a little tiny bit flair for the dramatic. I just could see I can totally see why this spoke to you.

Cynthia Friesen:

And I'm wondering, did I tell you how it came to be in my hands? So a dear friend, actually someone you know, you're very good friends with her sister. So My friend Alix, she bought it because she has always wanted to travel to Prague.And, and we often meet for walks, and she happened to have it in her car one day when she drove to meet me, and for a walk with her dog. And so she was like, I'm loving this, you're gonna love it when I'm finished. You can even borrow it. And, and then she also did say that there's quite a bit of musical theory that is woven into the novel, this author knows his theory. So yeah, so I've just it's, I can't say enough about it.

Amy Mair:

You know, what I thought was interesting. So I wanted to mention a couple of things is that I thought was interesing. It's very much an historical novel. So for those of you who do enjoy that, and, of course, World War II, right now, people can't get enough of that. But I really saw it as an academic thriller, which is, I don't that's exactly a genre, but it's, it's a bit of a genre because it, there's the rarefied world of academia. And the kind of cloistered atmosphere, high pressure world. There are rivals. It can be quite specific. And it reminded me a little bit of a literary Da Vinci Code. And then the book that it really reminded me of, I don't know, if you've read Possession by A.S. Byatt. But put that on your list. It's, it's from 1990, and it won the Booker Prize. And it's about a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. And it's the same idea. It's, it's an extravagant novel. It's a novel to get lost in. And it's got historical fiction, and then there are academic rivals, and there's a race to untangle a mystery. The other thing I wanted to recommend is a book that's just came out May 11. And it was on my list of kind of things I'm hoping to get to this summer, but it's called The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. And what it's about is, it's about a failed n velist who works at a third r te MFA program. And he's got thi kind of cocky student who sa s, I've got a sure thing th ng for a book. And the stude t ends up dying. And this guy st als the book idea. And he goes ahead and publishes it, and it s very popular. And then one da he gets an email that says so ething like "I know what you'v done." So it's kind of th same. This author wrote the b ok that was the basis for th Nicole Kidman show The Undoing on HBO,

Cynthia Friesen:

Which I watched because you recommend it,

Amy Mair:

and that and then also the book Admission that became a movie.

Cynthia Friesen:

I love this idea of the academic thriller, because definitely the main character Meta, she is a musicologist. Because she had a hand injury that didn't allow her to pursue her career as a performer. So she gets into the academic world. And when there's even some, some, you know, there's like this fight for the manuscript amongst academics that she thought she could trust. Right. But there are just some incredible for people who are musicians and you kind of have the understanding of music. I'm going to read this one thing to you because this book is like, life. Music is life, but music as math, music as imagination, there's so much in it. But there's one sentence here where she connects with a character who brings her the second movement.and he's an older man, and you can just see the the relief, you can feel the relief that he's been able to finally not have to be hiding this manuscript anymore of the second movement. And so Meta writes she hopes that keeping his promise to Jakub would allow the Sonata of his own life to resolve at least into a tonic minor. And for people who are not musical a tonic minor isn't going to mean a whole lot. But a tonic minor is it's a resolution but not with full satisfaction. So you've got your you got a major key, I'm gonna play you C major And then if you go into the tonic minor, that's the tonic minor of C major. And so often in music the movement between the tonic a major key and the tonic minor, and it doesn't fully resolve. It's not fully satisfying, but it is somewhat of a resolution.

Amy Mair:

So it's like a middle place.

Cynthia Friesen:

Kind of, yeah. They're very belated. But, you know, we all love our major keys, right? The minor keys have a darker aspect to them. Anyway, it's, it's things like that, that this author just get, which are fantastic.

Amy Mair:

It's interesting, because I looked up the author and he's written a lot of books that are just really involved in historical and, and I don't think he's a musician.

Cynthia Friesen:

I tried to find out if he was as well, I don't think he is. I don't think he is, but he must have some musical training.

Amy Mair:

I think it's for someone who wants to get lost in novel.

Cynthia Friesen:

I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much if I didn't start it right after I fractured my own wrist in February. And I had a lot of time on my hands. Playing music is a real challenge for me at this point. So this book, I think, was yeah, it was a real hopeful novel to dive into.

Amy Mair:

Let's to the second book. And this is a book that you put forth and tell us about. It's called the Awesome Music Project Canada's Songs of Hope and Happiness

Cynthia Friesen:

So this is a book that is a real tribute to how music can comfort and heal us. Like you said, it's a collection of stories and mostly by very well known Canadians. Some are musicians, some are authors, and some are public figures like Rick Mercer is in here. Chris Hatfield, the astronauts is in here. Contributors reflect on how music has been an impact on themselves in their lives. I came across it because with St. James Music Academy. We had an opportunity to be involved in an initiative called Music Heals and they raised an incredible amount of funds for music therapy initiatives in Vancouver. And so Fred Penner was coming as the highlight performer for this fundraiser, and one of my ensembles at St. James was asked to sing with him. I knew a lot about Fred, most Canadians do. He has this incredible "The Cat Came Back the Very Next Day." That was a popular song for a lot of us when we were kids. But I didn't know his whole story. And his excerpt in here is about how he actually studied to be an economist, but his sister had Down's syndrome and she had heart complications with Down's syndrome. And she passed on at the age of 12. One of the things he remembered so much about his sister Susie was the power of music in her life. And she would listen to the soundtrack from West Side Story over and over and over again. She's all the words, and she couldn't exactly express them towards the end. She was just grunting, but she felt them and he could see the emotional impact of the music. Slight tangent, but did you hear that Steven Spielberg has directed a new movie version of West Side Story and it's coming out at Christmas.

Amy Mair:

No!

Cynthia Friesen:

Yeah, so really looking forward to that. But so Fred realized that he couldmake a difference in people's lives by writing songs and performing and if he's like a Canadian troubadour, so love his story. Did you know him? Did you know of him?

Amy Mair:

I didn't know him before I moved here. Madeline time.

Cynthia Friesen:

So I woud like to share one more story. So Canadian Madeleine Thien. She's a professor of literature actually, as well. Our book club early on, we read Do Not Say We Have Nothing. And I was really drawn into her story in this collection about the impact of Glenn Gould's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. So it's written for piano and Bach's Goldberg Variations. My daughter Charlotte actually gifted me a very old portfolio of the Goldberg Variations at Christmas time. And I was working my way through it before I before I injured my hand.

Amy Mair:

What are the Goldberg Variations are sorry, I don't know.

Cynthia Friesen:

It's a series of variations on a musical motif that presents in a number of different ways. So I highly recommend you check out Glenn Gould's recording. It is truly iconic. So look that up and allow yourself to listen to it when you're not doing a bunch of other things. Maybe before you're trying to sleeping.

Amy Mair:

How do I decide between the Goldberg Variations and the Vibe app? How do I decide?

Cynthia Friesen:

Start with the Vibe App? But, or if you're on a road trip, you could listen to Goldberg Variations because there's the nuance well. Bach is a genius, right? Anyway, but Madeleine's novels are often set in dark spaces. And so she really kind of pulls out the emotions that she feels in the listening experience with the Goldberg Variations. And she herself was suffering from some mental health challenges when she was doing her book research in Cambodia. And she just found... Lordy (phone rings.)

Amy Mair:

That's okay. It's a podcast, so things are ok.

Cynthia Friesen:

(Doorbell then rings.) All right, hold on. Okay, I'm gonna read to you love, Madeleine Thien. Her words are far more expressive than how I could try to describe this. So here we go. As I came to the bridges, Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations began playing through my headphones, I pass beneath these bridges in Cambodia that led to nowhere, the opening Aria haunting and simple passed through me. And from this Aria, Bach builds his variations, a handful of notes initially played by the left hand, which I can still do right now. Are reworked into a series of 30 variations. And Kevin's as if a strand of DNA is living out, its permutations, these unfolding variations elicit joy, playfulness, grief, lightness, devastation, wonder, and more, a universe of feelings for which we have no needs.

Amy Mair:

Oh, wow. That's powerful. It really is powerful.

Cynthia Friesen:

And, and there's, you know, there's more and more research that is going into the brain benefits of music.

Amy Mair:

Wow, your place is a happening place. The phone and the door.

Cynthia Friesen:

But the power of the what happens in your brain, you don't have to be someone who plays an instrument, you don't have to be someone who knows how to sing. Even in the listening, you are able to really do incredible benefits for your brain. And you take that time to breathe and bring focus and calm your nervous system. So anyway, I could go on and on.

Amy Mair:

That's great. Well, I think that's good. And you've given us so much to think about Cynthia, do you think we can get our book club to read The Prague Sonata? That's the most important thing.

Cynthia Friesen:

Yes, please. Yes, please. And then I could be like an advisor, I could explain the bits that people might not understand. The mathematician in our book club. She will love a lot of this. The imaginative, more creative would like it. Everyone could find something in here.

Amy Mair:

I have to just add when we have bookclub and we're reading a book involves France, Cynthia might arrive with baugettes and a beret and a special drink. That may have actually happened. She likes to create an immersive experience for whatever book we're reading. And so I'm sure that we can convince them to do this. Maybe you can do like a little concert for us.

Cynthia Friesen:

And I could play something by the composer who they determined by the end of the book who they think that this mystery Sonata was written by.

Amy Mair:

Okay. All right, so well, if the book clubs listening now they can take that into consideration. We can keep saying we're gonna meet and we don't meet. I almost feel it's like, we're just trying to say we're thinking of each other. Like we it just doesn't, it's not happening for obvious reasons, but we keep thinking.

Cynthia Friesen:

We're doing the right we're doing the right thing.

Amy Mair:

Hopefully that will be changing shortly. But the book club has been fine. Even though we don't seem to get together, we do text and talk about stuff often not book related, which is actually what I think. And especially as we age, what really a book club is for, which is a support group.

Cynthia Friesen:

We're more than a book club. We exchange recipes and we've been to hear Oprah, and we've gone cross country skiing. I'm ever grateful for you ladies, and that I was invited to be part of it all.

Amy Mair:

Thank you so much to Cynthia for joining today. And I'm going to check out that Vibe app. I think could be a great addition to my bedtime routine. I want to invite you back in another week, to join me in my conversation with Myriam Beauge. She's my friend. She's an editor. French is also first language. I've invited her to talk about a great book that I've read, that was translated from French to English, and I have some questions for her. And the book is called Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal. I'm sure I pronounced your name wrong. But she can fill us in when she stops by. And also she's going to talk about a book that she really enjoyed that divided up her book club. And it's a book by Ian McEwen that I've never heard of. It's called Machines Like Me. And I just want to let you know that I'm wrapping up my first season in a few weeks. And I'm going to take a hiatus over the summer and I'll be back in the fall. And our last few episodes I think are pretty exciting. I have Myriam coming up and then back by popular demand in early June book blogger Susan Matheson with Bedside Table Books is going to be back to do a summer preview of the books to read this summer. And then our final episode of the season. I'm going to have best selling author Daniel Kalla on to talk about hi new book medical thriller ca led The Last Immunity. So th nk you so much. The season ha been so much fun, and I've re lly enjoyed it and I can feel your presence and those of you that are tuning in it, it means a lot and I will talk to you later. Bye