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Beyond the Book Articles
Music and the Arts

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Vinyl Records (11/18)
Despite the many digital streaming options for listening to music, vinyl records are still popular with some listeners. Like Frank in The Music Shop, many music aficionados love the sound quality of vinyl records and nostalgia has increased their popularity. Vinyl records still comprise a noticeable portion of the market. According to the...
Performance Poetry and Slams (07/18)
Most sources date the first 'poetry slam' to Chicago in 1984, when the American poet Marc Kelly Smith held the first open mic. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Smith did this because 'poetry readings and poetry in general had lost their true passion' and he wanted to 'bring poetry back to the people.' So he initiated the weekly ...
Traditional Cambodian Music (04/18)
Traditional Cambodian music plays a key role in Music of the Ghosts. Hearing it triggers memories for both of the story's main characters, and three hand-made instruments—a single-stringed lute, an oboe, and a drum—set the plot in motion.

Music and Buddhism have a strong connection; music is sometimes seen as a ceremonial ...
Music During Nero's Time (04/18)
The appreciation of music seemed to be one of Emperor Nero's favorite pastimes. He not only organized musical competitions, but played several instruments himself.

Brass instruments such as the tuba (a long, straight trumpet-like device) and the cornu (the precursor of the French horn) were mostly used by the military of the day ...
Christina's World (02/18)
Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World, the subject of A Piece of the World, was initially met with little fanfare, and its critical reception was lackluster. Nevertheless, the painting, which features Christina Olson reaching toward her home in the distance, was purchased during its first showing at a New York Gallery in 1948 by ...
The Art of Glassmaking (01/18)
At one point in Glass House, Brian Alexander describes his childhood experience of peering into one of the glass manufacturing plants in his home town: 'Nuns had spent years engraving images of hell on my imagination. The flames shooting out of the squat stack on the roof, the white-red glow of the furnace inside, the gray shadows of the ...
Paul Gauguin: A Flawed Artist (12/17)
In Castle of Water, one of the characters is headed to the Marquesas Islands, part of French Polynesia, because he wants to pay his respects to the renowned French painter, Paul Gauguin, who breathed his last there.

Paul Gauguin was born in 1848 in France to a French father and a mother with mixed French and Peruvian heritage. While ...
Tell it to the Book-keeper (11/17)
'Want to know what a book-keeper's job is, boy?' he muttered. 'We keep the actors from ruinin' the play.'

Emma thinks her sudden promotion to stage manager of her high school's drama department is a stretch in Molly Booth's debut novel Saving Hamlet but it is nothing like the crash course she receives when she finds herself in the ...
Arts, Artists and Authoritarianism (11/17)
In This is How It Begins, Ludka Zeilonka, art history professor and survivor of the World War II Nazi invasion of Poland, rescued a valuable painting from certain theft or destruction at the hands of the Germans. She has kept it hidden for over 70 years, protecting it and keeping its provenance intact for posterity. As an idealistic young...
Storyboarding (09/17)
In The Animators, best friends Sharon and Mel spend hours hunched over their artwork that will form the basis of an animated movie. 'I know a day of work has been really good when I have to look up from the board and recall who I am and what I'm doing,' Sharon says. That 'board' that she refers to is one of a series of images that ...
Child Prodigies in Visual Art (07/17)
When we hear the phrase 'child prodigy,' our minds almost automatically go to Mozart and other musicians, and from there, towards young geniuses in the areas of mathematics and science. One of the shorter lists of child prodigies is in the visual arts: drawing, painting and sculpture. But the world has witnessed some exceptional artistic ...
Folk and Bluegrass Music (06/17)
In Before We Sleep, Oliver, a World War II veteran, repairs fiddles for others to play folk and bluegrass tunes.

Fiddles and violins are essentially the same instrument (for more about this, read the 'Beyond the Book' for Black River), but the music that they produce can be classified into different categories. According to Strings ...
The Tango (04/17)
Fans of the ballroom dance known as the 'tango' probably think of it as synonymous with elegance and sophistication, with dazzlingly turned out women and men striding gracefully amid a throng of champagne-and-caviar glitterati. A fair impression, given the tango's portrayal in Hollywood movies and musicals. But the tango began more than a...
The Our Gang Films (01/17)
One of the central characters in The Sellout is Hominy Jenkins, an elderly black man who was, in his youth, a lesser-known member of the group of child actors featured in the Our Gang series of short films. Hominy Jenkins might be fictional, but Our Gang was certainly not. Produced from 1922 to 1944 by comedy producer Hal Roach, the ...
Arts Education Empowers Youth with Disabilities (01/17)
Aristotle once said, 'Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.' Those words were uttered nearly 2,400 years ago, but they are still relevant today. Education that gives meaning is the kind of learning that we remember. Today, art education is one place where teenagers learn about the world surrounding them ...
Kenneth Lochhead's "Flight and Its Allegories" and the Gander International Airport (01/17)
If you flew on a transatlantic flight at some point in the mid-twentieth century, odds are you found yourself at Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland, on at least one leg of your journey. For years, before the advent of wide-body jets with higher fuel capacity, Gander was the main refueling stop for aircraft bound for the ...
Diego Velázquez's Contemporaries (11/16)
Diego Velázquez (1599 - 1660) was a painter in the court of Spain's Philip IV during the Spanish Golden Age (Siglo de Oro), a period influenced by the Italian Renaissance, during which the arts flourished throughout the country. The exact dates of the Spanish Golden Age vary by commentator, but it began no earlier than 1492 with ...
The Thorne Rooms (10/16)
In The Making of Home, Judith Flanders argues that it can be difficult to know what ordinary homes throughout history looked and felt like, in part because museums with 'period rooms' tend to devote precious space to recreating the opulent homes of wealthy figures from the past. Perhaps it's much more fun to look at ceilings replete ...
Haiku (09/16)

at my feet
when did you get here?
- Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

It's no coincidence that Elisabeth Tova Bailey chose Kobayashi Issa as one of several selected poets to gently ease us into the passages of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. The haiku poet's simplicity and grace complement Elisabeth Tova Bailey's quiet ...

The Man With the Blue Guitar: A Poem (09/16)
It is not uncommon for a novelist to choose a title for a book from another work of art, such as a line from a song (You Must Remember This, by Joyce Carol Oates) or a painting (Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier). The title of John Banville's novel The Blue Guitar comes from a Wallace Stevens poem entitled 'The Man with the ...
Art Inspired by 9/11 (09/16)
The events of September 11, 2001 changed the world in many ways and naturally, that change has been reflected in the arts and humanities. In film, fiction, theatre and more, artists from across the globe have responded to the tragedy in many ways and on many levels.

'After 9/11,' writes Jill Bialosky in her novel The Prize, 'many ...
Chechen Painter Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets (08/16)
A fictional nineteenth-century pastoral painting by real-life Chechen painter, Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets, features in one of the stories in The Tsar of Love and Techno.

Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets was born in 1816 during the Caucasian War, which was the subject of historical fiction from Tolstoy, Lermontov, and Pushkin. In 1819 the three...
Imitation: Flattery or Fraud? (06/16)
The legitimacy of a painting that hangs in the hotel of the murder victim, Pierre-Louis Pennec, is at the heart of Jean Luc-Bannalec's Death in Brittany. Is it a forgery or is it an authentic Gauguin?

There is popular story among writers about world-famous author Jack London (Call of the Wild, White Fang). Rumor has it that he ...
Artists Who Painted Their Wives (04/16)
In Paint Your Wife, Alma Martin, though just thirty and physically healthy, was left behind while other fit men went to war. The loss of both his young wife and some of his memory in a train accident had rendered him 'a less-than dangerous male. A male without horns.' During his rehabilitation, he began to draw. Art became his obsession; ...
Installation Art (03/16)
In The Wonder Garden, one of the stories, 'Swarm,' features a sculpture created by local artist Martin who is commissioned to meticulously craft thousands of different bugs to carpet the exterior surface of a neighbor's house. Should it also be considered installation art?

Installation art is a form of art where a variety of ...
Kilim (02/16)
In Orhan's Inheritance, Orhan and his family are makers of kilim rugs, a type of carpet manufactured in Turkey using a technique referred to as 'flatweave' (i.e., a rug that is woven rather than knotted). Dating back to at least 4th century China, this type of rug is common throughout Central Asia, and is known as a palas (Ukraine);...
Crafting a Violin (01/16)
In Black River, Wes's father made a handmade fiddle for his son. This treasured belonging supports many of the story's themes. The fiddle itself is a multi-sensory object. Beyond its key function of making music, it is also visually beautiful, and provides a tactile and kinesthetic release for Wes.

A fiddle and a violin are pretty much...
Charles Rennie Mackintosh ("Mr. Mac") (11/15)
Mackintosh (1868–1928), one of the central characters in Esther Freud's Mr. Mac and Me, was one of 11 children born to a police superintendent and his wife in Glasgow, Scotland. Early on he showed promise as an architect, winning the 1890 Alexander Thomson Traveling Studentship, which funded his travel around Europe to study classic...
A History of Fresco that Leads to Francesco del Cossa (11/15)
Early Fresco Painting
Ali Smith's How to Be Both was inspired by a book she found about frescoes. Fresco, meaning 'fresh' in Italian, is the technique of painting in water-based pigment on wet plaster so that the plaster, paint and wall fuse into a single entity. The earliest known examples date from c. 1500 BCE, on the island of Crete, ...
Patrick Blanc And the Vertical Garden (10/15)
In the past twenty years, planted walls and vertical gardens, one of the many innovations showcased in The Human Age, have gone from novelty to mainstream, as part of the reconciliation ecology movement that is working to preserve or increase urban biodiversity. All around the world, vertical gardens are creating dynamic ecosystems that ...
Michelangelo and Six of His Greatest Works (09/15)
During his long life Michelangelo created numerous great works of art. Six are particularly renowned and are located either in Rome or Florence. In his book Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces, Miles J. Unger examines the artist through these monumental works. The following offers a condensed history and description of each.

Joy Division and Ian Curtis (07/15)
The pairing of Ghost Month, a mesmerizing mystery set in contemporary Taiwan, with an introduction to the resolutely non-mainstream late seventies, post-punk English band Joy Division might seem unusual. However, Joy Division's gloomy, abjective music forms the weft interlaced throughout Ed Lin's fine novel. Despondent protagonist ...
Yaddo Artists' Retreat (06/15)
Rebecca Makkai makes clear in her dedication that although nothing in The Hundred-Year House is based on her stay at Yaddo, a creative artists' retreat in Saratoga, New York, the book is indebted to the time and space they gave her to write it. Like Laurelfield, it was once a privately held estate.

Yaddo was founded in 1900 by ...
Photographer Brassai (05/15)
In Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, Francine Prose bases the character Gabor Tsenyi on real life photographer Gyula Halász. Known by the pseudonym Brassai, Halasz was born in 1899 in the Transylvanian (later Hungary, now Romania) city of Brasso. His father was a university professor of French literature and their family ...
The Painter, Charles Blackman (05/15)
In her author's note in The Golden Day, Ursula Dubosarsky writes that Charles Blackman, an acclaimed Australian modernist painter, was a particularly keen influence on the novel: '[My] greatest debt is to Charles Blackman's many astonishing, lush depictions of schoolgirls – enchanting, disturbing, and endlessly evocative.'

One of ...
The Four Yuan Masters (04/15)
The primary protagonist in The Ten Thousand Things is modeled after a real-life Chinese landscape painter and government official, Wang Meng.

After the Song dynasty was overthrown, many landscape painters working during the Mongol Yuan dynasty that followed formed part of the 'literati.' These were artists who worked solely on cultural ...
Carel Fabritius and The Goldfinch (04/15)
In Donna Tartt's new book, the protagonist, Theo Decker, comes upon an original seventeenth century painting, 'The Goldfinch'. The painting is one of Carel Fabritius' (Fub-reet-zee-us) most famous works. Fabritius (1622-1654) was one of Rembrandt's pupils. He worked from the Dutch city of Delft and produced only a small body of work ...
Artwork in The Painter (03/15)
Art plays a very important role in Peter Heller's vibrant and introspective second novel, The Painter. Narrator Jim Stegner describes various famous works of art as a way of processing his emotions. He expresses how the colors and textures of each masterpiece affect him at a deep level, and he ponders what these emotions mean about his ...
Zydeco Music (03/15)
In Red Now and Laters, there are several references to zydeco, a type of music descended from Louisiana Creoles.

The commonly accepted explanation for the word 'zydeco' is that it comes from the old Creole adage, 'Les haricots ne sont pas sales,' meaning literally 'the beans aren't salty,' a lamentation that times are hard when you...
Justin Vernon (02/15)
Nickolas Butler based one of the characters in Shotgun Lovesongs on Justin Vernon, a successful musician with whom he went to high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Singer, songwriter and producer Justin DeYarmond Edison Vernon was born April 30, 1981 in Eau Claire. According to his father, he started writing songs at the age of 12...
Creating Music from Science (09/14)
In Orfeo, the protagonist Peter Els sees many similarities between gene structures and music. 'Genomics was right now learning how to read scores indescribably beautiful,' Powers writes. And while the book talks about an entire segment of study that is called 'biocomposing' with its own dedicated journal and conference, research reveals ...
Popular Latin Dances (09/14)
I thought the references to Latin dances woven throughout Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass were an effective way to illustrate Piddy's struggles with understanding her own physicality as well her place as an individual within her community. Besides the cultural connotations, dance can be a powerful way to express emotion ...
David Lynch (07/14)
In Night Film, Marisha Pessl seems to take inspiration from a number of movie directors including Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick but the one whom the fictional Stan Cordova resembles the most is David Lynch.

Born in 1946 in Missoula, Montana to middle-class parents, Lynch had an itinerant childhood moving from state to state ...
The Cello (06/14)
Cello music plays a pivotal role in Rooftoppers. The cello is a string instrument played with a bow. It has four strings tuned to perfect fifths. It is an octave lower than a viola, and an octave and a fifth lower than a violin. The name 'cello' is an abbreviation of the Italian violoncello, which means 'little violone'.

Andrea ...
Child Musical Prodigies Past and Present (06/14)
A music prodigy is a child, 12 or under, whose talent is considered on a level and competitive with skilled adult musicians. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is still deemed one of the greatest child music prodigies—born in 1756, he started playing harpsichord at age three. By the age of five he was accomplished at reading and playing music ...
The Restoration of The Last Supper (02/14)
The Last Supper, completed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1498, is one of Western civilization's great cultural touchstones. Housed in the refectory of the Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, this late 15th century work was commissioned as part of planned renovations to the convent and church buildings by da Vinci's patron, ...
The Musical Legacy of St. Hildehard von Bingen (10/13)
St. Hildehard von Bingen was an incredibly gifted writer and music composer. Her music is known for its soaring registers and flourishes. As a child, she was exposed to music at the monastery when she heard others take part in the Divine Office. She listened and learned from the interplay between words and sound. The monastery provided a ...
Blaxploitation Movies (09/13)
In Telegraph Avenue, Luther Stallings, Archy's dad, was once a star in blaxploitation films that were all the rage in the '70s. Even though the term appears to be a loaded word, blaxploitation movies were actually powerful vehicles of self-identification for many blacks. Understandably this view was not held by all. Many black ...
Craquelure (09/13)
As Chloe Aridjis explains in Asunder, a painting too must obey the laws of physics - in that it slowly - ever so slowly - descends from 'order' (the finished painting) into disorder. This 'disorder' is brought about by a series of cracks in the paint or varnish that forms a network over time. This network is called craquelure (pronounced ...
Edward Curtis's Photography Techniques and the Preservation of a Way of Life (08/13)
Edward Curtis, with the help of his assistants in his Seattle studio, produced photogravure prints - over 40,000 of the North American Indian alone. The elaborate process produced sepia pictures with soft glowing tones.

The photogravure process, which really took off in the late nineteenth century, is widely considered as elevating ...
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