Using music as metaphor, this loving biographical tribute offers advice on artistry and life.
Steinberg (The Social Work Student’s Research Handbook, 2004, etc.) had quite a mother: Blanche Moyse survived the Nazi occupation of France, poverty in Argentina and a legally treacherous journey to Vermont, where she led a chorale for years. Always close to Blanche, Steinberg cared for her mother in her twilight years, absorbing the wisdom and chutzpah of a woman who lived to be 100 years old but was adventurous enough to ride in a hot air balloon at 95. Steinberg applies her mother’s commentary on music and performance to everyday life, since “the wisdom shared with her artistic colleagues were the very same pearls she had shared with those who interacted with her intimately in everyday life. The metaphors were all musical,” Steinberg says, “but the sentiments were exactly the same.” Thus, each chapter’s theme is drawn from one of Blanche’s pearls of wisdom, such as: “I’m deaf, and you are (still) too loud.” Along with anecdotes from Blanche’s life, Steinberg describes ways we can all apply the musical lesson to everyday life, shortening the explanation to a single sentence or two, which she calls a “life lesson take-away.” Interspersed throughout are “intermezzos” (short lists of quotes from Blanche), “variations” (comments from Blanche to her chorale during her 40-year reign), photographs and captions. Though it’s immediately evident that Blanche was a remarkable woman with insightful commentary, this volume tends to be a bit scattered. At times, it resembles a family scrapbook instead of a narrative. The jumps back and forth between story and advice can be a bit jarring, which could be alleviated by separating the text into lengthier chunks and giving each tale a longer arc. Despite these organizational issues, Blanche shines through as a worthy central figure, and a second, more anecdotal biography about her long, rich life and career might also be a page-turner.
Though this book doesn’t quite live up to the genius of Blanche’s beloved Bach, it certainly strikes some lovely chords.