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4.7 out of 5 stars61
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 26 February 2013
Bought based on a newspaper review hoping it would help with my mid life guitar blues struggle. I'm not trying to play Chopin but I would like to noodle a convincing blues on the guitar. As well as being enjoyably written it was interesting to see the frustrations of the wannabe classical pianist mirroring those of the UK bluesman. It's all music. The inner workings of the Guardian and intricacies of the major stories of the day provided relief from the technicalities piano fingering.

It's good to know that someone else really should know their scales and that practice and family life involve a bit of sneaking out - more family drama and talent contests on TV please.

I've tried the practising early in the morning and it works! All mid-life aspiring rockers and maestros should read it.
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on 25 February 2013
I enjoyed this book as much as anything I have read in the last 5 years. It is a testament to his skill as a writer that he is able to make the process of learning a piano piece by an amateur a "gripping" read. (True, he is a newspaper editor, so he should be able to write) There is plenty of other narrative about his work as Guardian editor to fill in the gaps, but his stories about his amateur musical gatherings are equally interesting. For anyone like me who found out about this book through a newspaper review, I would urge you to buy the book as well, the reviews by no means tell the whole story. His notated Ballade score at the back on it's own makes it worthwhile (NOTE: I bought the print version and I'm glad I did that, as referring to it is easier unless you are very adept with your e-reader) . PS: I am not sure I believe his frequent assertion that he doesn't know scales, as it seems inconceivable that one can sightread (which he says he can do well) without scale/chord/harmonic knowledge.
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Alan Rusbridger is the editor of the Guardian, so has little time for hobbies, but has a passion for music and for playing the piano. At an annual 'piano camp' he is inspired when a fellow attendee plays Chopin's Ballade No 1 A piece, which inspires dread in even professional pianists. Rushbridger is now in his fifies and restarted piano lessons in his late forties. He has a demanding job in news, which is now updated constantly 24 hours a day, and has little time for anything outside work. Yet, despite all that, he decides to set himself a challange to pay the piece of music which both daunts and calls to him.

It is difficult to describe this book. It is partly full of fascinating musical digressions, from the author's attempts to find the perfect piano for the music room he is building at his country cottage, to watching other amateur pianists performing the piece on YouTube, taking lessons and discussing the piece with musicians and partly it is a news diary. During the year that Rusbridger was desperately attempting to find time for practice, he was also dealing with some major news stories, such as WikiLeaks, phone hacking and the Arab Spring. The book jumps delightfully between topics, leaving you at times impatient to leave the news and get back to the music - as I am sure Rusbridger felt himself. At one part of the book he mentions a 'sneery' article about his love of music, but you can only applaud his passion for the music (and instrument) he obviously loves and the whole book is a pleasure to read, whether you are a musician or not.
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on 25 February 2013
Absolutely loved this book. I'm a diabolical piano player, (I started lessons ten years ago, and still haven't managed to memorise a single piece of music, or play anything worth listening to) so this story of managing to squeeze in just a small amount of piano practice amongst a maelstrom of working life, really grabbed me. Told in diary entries, and covering the build-up to a nerve wracking performance, it was surprisingly engrossing. Plus the backdrop of life as the Editor of the Guardian was a real insight. If you play the piano badly, (or quite well) I could not recommend this book any higher. Really, really good.
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on 21 March 2013
Started learning the piano very young? tick. Never had the patience to learn scales and harmony properly? tick. Took it up again later in life, with the desire to improve? tick.
Anyone who shares these starting points with Alan Rusbridger will relish this book, which demonstrates how important regular practice is to making progress with learning a piece. I was so hooked on his progress that I stopped reading the Guardian for a week, in order to finish the book. Then I bought his recommendations for amateur pianists, to give a structure to my practising sessions. This has changed my life, as the challenge which he set himself changed his. There are some fascinating choices which lead to surreal situations: practising the Chopin Ballade in an empty Libyan hotel the day before the airport was closed and he was able to leave the country with a hitherto imprisoned Guardian journalist. One could argue that it was BECAUSE he spent twenty minutes a day learning to play such a difficult piece that he was able to assume all the other responsibilities of editor, journalist and family man. I was left just wondering who did the washing up.
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on 19 May 2014
Interesting book: it gives all the flavour of the frustrations/insecurities/pains that an amateur - or, for that matter, a professional - musician goes through. The self-blaming ("have I practiced enough? should I practice more? where can I find the time?") and the in-depth analysis of the technical challenges and solutions that are presented by any chosen musical piece.

But also, just as importantly, a number of interesting exchanges with professional performers, directors, neurologists, that try to answer some basic questions: what does "musical practicing" entail, in terms of motor/neurological elements involved? what does it really mean, "get the piece in the fingers"? And, why does practising music give so much pleasure; what do I get out of my daily practice in the early morning?

Add to this the general scenario described in the book. When the story takes place, the Guardian newspaper went through probably the most important journalistic events of its history. Legal challenges, editorial lines to take for Wikileaks, international coordination among papers, etc.

Rusbridger is clearly not a novelist, but a very good writer, and I think he manages to fix the spirit of his experience on paper in a very interesting and captivating way.
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on 26 February 2013
This book was very interesting and fun to read. I enjoyed both the piano story and the stories about journalism during this period. I also am an adult getting into piano lessons so I found the diary most useful and interesting, particularly the interviews with famous musicians.
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I am not a Guardian fan but I really enjoyed spending time in Alan Rusbridger's company. He seems a very nice bloke, with a lot of humility. And he's got some really insightful ideas about life, and about the role of professionals and amateurs in contemporary life. What an inspirational work!

This is one of those rare books that has everything - it tells the story of an impossible battle against the odds; it is a diary; it includes some incredible politics (especially the News International story); we meet a cast of wonderful characters (from Condoleezza Rice to Murray Perahia to Gaddafi's son) and it has a lot to say about music.

The inclusion of the full score at the end was a good choice. I listened to the Chopin Ballade several times (I didn't know it before) so that it became the sound track to my life during the week I read the book.

But most of all this book is an inspiration. If Alan Rusbridger can do it, with his hectic life, then any of us can. There can be no one with a more demanding job than he. So I have booked my first piano lesson already. Wish me luck!
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on 21 March 2013
I haven't finished it yet but I'm dreading doing so. I'm loving every minute of it, especially because we have one or two things in common but not many. His standard is obviousy superior to mine but the wonderful thing is, this book gives one hope. I too am a good sight reader and find it impossible to commit the score to memory but what Alan Rusbridger has achieved is extraordinary and he does make one feel desparate to have a go. And that's just what I am doing. He describes his journey to achieve his goal so well and how lucky he is to be able to obtain opinions of so many eminent pianists and other experts. Although he is not affraid to display his talents, he is also very self-effacing and I found myself laughing aloud, especially when he talks of his exasperated piano teacher making him feel like a child again. Not only to have learned the Ballade to performance standard, but to have written a book and edited The Guardian through troubled times, is mind-blowing and wonderful. Thank you Alan Rusbridger for sharing your journey in such an honest way.
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on 14 February 2013
As I began to practice a new piece to re-take grade 7, looked at the recommended speed, I wondered would my fingers have the dexterity to play it and did I have, as a middle manager of a core department have time to learn it by the due date? Alan Rusbridger's inspirational book sounds out an impressive 'yes' for us all. This record of Alan Rusbridger's own personal and very honest journey to juggle pursuit of an ambition to master a Chopin epic while managing a hectic and unpredictable 24:7 job as Editor of The Guardian not only provides inspiration but is a compelling account of an unforgettable year in the media, an insight into purchasing my favourite instrument, the piano, against what became a major rebuilding project. Not only that but this book affords an incite into the impact on musicianship of this digital age. You can judge the true impact of a book when you start purchasing its bibliography! And are those fingers dexterous enough? Do I have time? Yes I do.
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