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Customer reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars

on 16 August 2010
I devoured Out of Silence from cover to cover. Described as a pianist's yearbook, it traces a year in the life of a classical pianist - in the form of a blog rather than a diary or a journal. Each entry develops a theme or a thought that has inspired her interpretation of a score or her performance of a piece of music. The essays are short, thought provoking, informative, and interesting.

Getting up at six o'clock to catch a plane reminds the author of childhood piano practice in the cold and dark of an Edinburgh morning. How familiar that sounds, except that I never started quite that early and was never as anywhere near as dedicated or talented as Susan Tomes! She describes the nerves before a concert, the walk from the wings to one's place on the stage, interaction with the audience during and after a performance, and the physical stamina needed to play at the ever-increasing volumes required in larger concert halls. Her musings on watching a Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal led her to think that it would be equally skilful to hit the ball so that the other person could, rather than could not, hit it back. `It struck me that hitting the ball deliberately out of the other person's reach was very unsportsmanlike.'

I was surprised and fascinated to read that musicians who have been playing together for many years and have developed such rapport in their performance often have little to say to each other once the performance is over and `are actually desperate to go back into their shells':

`Sometimes it feels as if as soon as the music stops, the members of a group become like magnets with their like poles together, agitating to repel one another.'

Although the book will appeal most to lovers of classical music, it is written in clear, accessible English that should broaden its appeal to a wider readership. The style is easy and fluent, spoilt only by the (very) occasional clumsy sentence, and by the use on two occasions of that most annoying cliché (according to a newspaper poll last year) `at the end of the day', as opposed to the genuinely meaningful, `At the end of a day of rehearsal, my hands often ache...'. Perhaps they can be edited out on a reprint!

None of this is sufficient to detract from an enlightening and enjoyable read. Thoroughly recommended, even if it's a subject you thought wouldn't interest you!
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on 10 June 2010
Quite simply, this is a superb book.

Susan Tomes is a pianist who writes as well as she plays the piano. On the face of it, I wondered whether a book made up of entries from a performer's diary over a period of a year would be enough to hold my attention from cover to cover. I had read her first book, Beyond the Notes, a few years ago and realized then that I enjoyed her writing almost as much as her playing. The earlier book dealt with her early days as pianist of Domus, a chamber music ensemble, which travelled throughout Britain, performing in a mobile performance space in locations that otherwise might not have hosted a chamber music concert. In that book, she also discussed issues concerning music musicians, and performance and several of the chapters provided much food for though.
Out of Silence is quite different. It is divided into months with several entries for each month, most of which run to about one and a half to two pages. Some are even shorter and one or two reach over three pages. Behind these short essays lies some deep thinking. That does not mean that Ms. Tomes presents heavy philosophical arguments couched in obscurantist language -- quite to the contrary. The book is written in clear English so that everyone can understand exactly what she means. Its objective seems to be to convey to the lay reader some of the trials and tribulations of a performing artist or, as she puts it, a travelling musician though I daresay that professional musicians will find a lot of interest here as well.

One of the criteria I have used for a long time in helping me determine whether a talk or book is interesting is if, during the course of listening or reading, thoughts spring up in my mind on issues that sometimes seem only vaguely related to the theme -- until I reflect on them and then realize what sparked them off. In this case the words in these short pieces definitely caused me to regard some of my own ideas or experiences in a new light.

The topics covered are varied. She writes about individual pieces of music and about working with other musicians. She discusses what a travelling musician does when she finds herself with a day to kill in a strange city between concerts. She relates to the relationship between performers and audiences, about the `status' of classical musicians vis-à-vis wealthy or influential `patrons'. She raises the issue of the inability of many members of the audience who approach a performer after a concert to talk about the music and about their `tongue-tiedness' in general -- and there's much more.

Behind an often chatty façade, each entry comprises issues that are well-thought and each has several layers. The writing is distilled and refined. Each entry is worthy of a second and a third read, and each reading brings forth other issues that you hadn't noticed the first time around. And the wonderful thing is that each piece is short enough to be able to do this easily.

If you want to learn something of a musician's life, of the relationship between an artist and her/his colleagues and audiences then this is wonderful place to start for Susan Tomes is an accomplished writer -- as skilled a writer as she is a musician.

It's the best read I've had on topics concerning music and musicians in years.
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on 5 September 2017
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on 29 December 2013
Well and sensitively written. Recommended reading for keyboard, and wider musical audiences. Good to find a paperback book - see my review of the Burges tome
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on 30 August 2010
Having read Susan Tomes' book "Beyond the Notes" and now "Out of Silence", I am once again struck by her ability to discuss the classical music profession realistically and honestly and to do so in a totally entertaining way. Being a pianist myself, I find Ms. Tomes to be a soul searching individual of considerable depth. While she shares her experiences as a successful pianist, she opens up to real things happening to real people, herself included. Her ultimate goal is to find meaningful and lasting artistry in the truest sense, and the ardent trials that come with it. The book consists of short essays that range from comical to profoundly moving experiences. I recommend this book to any musician, not just pianists. It's a really good read.
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on 29 December 2010
This is a very complicated subject, but tackled sympathetically and with understanding by one of the best pianists ever. I have known Susuan for over 30 years when she played with Domas, The Florestan Trio, and when she performs as a solo artist. She has a lovely personality which shines on every page of all of books she has written.
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on 22 August 2010
A book on thoughts on playing the piano both professionally and privately.I found this book to be very refreshing and straight forward. Susan Tomes echoed many of my feelings about music.
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