Mountain Solo, by Jeanette Ingold;
Harcourt, Inc.: New York, 2003; $17
When I first read the back cover of the book, I was so thrilled. Since I began playing the cello seriously, I have been looking for a book that describes the life and feelings of an instrumental soloist. Jeanette Ingold’s main character does not play the cello, but violin was close enough to get me excited. The author wove such an interesting and emotional story of a girl that I read the book in one sitting. I remember not budging for several hours to finish that 3oo-page book that I just could not put down.
Tess Thaler has lived as a virtuoso-to-be since she first picked up the violin at age three. When she is twelve, Tess moves, with her mom, from her hometown in Montana to New York City to attend a prestigious music school for even more vigorous training.
When I read that part, I thought of how hard it must be to be separated from your dad. Like Tess, I’m as close to my dad as I am to my mom.
When Tess is sixteen, her mom encourages her to participate in a contest for the chance to perform with one of Germany’s finest orchestras. After winning the competition, she makes a debut in front of thousands in Germany. Unfortunately, Tess was not ready; it was her mom’s idea, not hers. Her first note comes out wrong, and that one mistake leads to many others throughout the piece.
I think that any person who ever performed on any kind of stage knows how Tess felt at that debut. It reminds me of my audition for a special music school; how I was so nervous my hands were turning all numb and blue, how I could hardly play my cello, and how, like Tess, my first mistake led to another, and another.
After her would-be debut, Tess throws away all the glamour, practice, and years of hard work and returns to her dad and stepfamily in Montana without her mom.
I would think that many people would not be able to understand why Tess would have done this, but I know. Sometimes, after a bad concert or audition, I feel so frustrated and disappointed in myself that I want to renounce the cello.
Even though the absence of violin had left Tess with time to spare, her days were soon filled with finding the lost homestead of a pioneer named Frederick Bottner who, like Tess, played the violin. With her archaeologist stepmother, Tess visits Frederick’s surviving daughter in the hospital and quickly gets entangled in searching for the key to the pioneer’s life.
Tess draws the inspiration to pick up the violin again through this mysterious pioneer who lived more than a century ago. She finds out that the people who came to her concert had not wanted to hear her play; they just wanted to hear the music. She also figures out that her mother didn’t force her to do anything. Tess just wanted someone to blame. She denied that she had made mistakes, which everyone does.
But by admitting to her mistakes, Tess eventually matures to show us that we shouldn’t be afraid to try again after we slip.
Through this book, I learned that the greatness of a musician is never determined by their technical ability or how many competitions they win, but how much love for music that person has.
Mountain Solo by Jeanette Ingold is a highly entertaining book that I think everyone would enjoy, musician or not.