NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A beautifully written, witty memoir that is also an immersive exploration of classical music—its power, its meanings, and what it can teach us about ourselves—from the MacArthur “Genius” Grant–winning pianist
“Jeremy Denk has written a love letter to the music, and especially to the music teachers, in his life.”—Conrad Tao, pianist and composer
In Every Good Boy Does Fine, renowned pianist Jeremy Denk traces an implausible journey. His life is already a little tough as a precocious, temperamental six-year-old piano prodigy in New Jersey, and then a family meltdown forces a move to New Mexico. There, Denk must please a new taskmaster, an embittered but devoted professor, while navigating junior high school. At sixteen he escapes to college in Ohio, only to encounter a bewildering new cast of music teachers, both kind and cruel. After many humiliations and a few triumphs, he ultimately finds his way as a world-touring pianist, a MacArthur “Genius,” and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall.
Many classical music memoirs focus on famous musicians and professional accomplishments, but this book focuses on the everyday: neighborhood teacher, high school orchestra, local conductor. There are few writers capable of so deeply illuminating the trials of artistic practice—hours of daily repetition, mystifying advice, pressure from parents and teachers. But under all this struggle is a love letter to the act of teaching.
In lively, endlessly imaginative prose, Denk dives deeply into the pieces and composers that have shaped him—Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, among others—and offers lessons on melody, harmony, and rhythm. How do melodies work? Why is harmony such a mystery to most people? Why are teachers so obsessed with the metronome?
In Every Good Boy Does Fine, Denk shares the most meaningful lessons of his life, and tries to repay a debt to his teachers. He also reminds us that we must never stop asking questions about music and its purposes: consolation, an armor against disillusionment, pure pleasure, a diversion, a refuge, and a vehicle for empathy.
About the Author
Jeremy Denk is one of America’s foremost pianists. Winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the Avery Fisher Prize, Denk is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He returns frequently to Carnegie Hall and has recently appeared with ensembles including the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. His recordings have reached #1 on the Billboard classical charts and featured on many best-of-the-year lists. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Guardian, and The New York Times Book Review. Denk graduated from Oberlin College, Indiana University, and the Juilliard School. He lives in New York City.
“Wildly ambitious, far exceeding the author’s modest description of it as ‘the story of piano lessons.’ . . . [Jeremy] Denk writes feelingly on the artist’s self-dramatization, the formation of a self . . . the conviction that you have something special to contribute to the appreciation of what you are performing, grasping whatever gives you the audacity to present yourself before the public. These are as much the subject of the book as its ostensible subject, piano lessons; these are life lessons.”—Simon Callow, The New York Review of Books
“Lucid and bittersweet . . . Like Bach, whose ‘Goldberg Variations’ he has recorded with great rigor and warmth, Denk knows how to spin rich counterpoint out of multiple lines. And like Mozart, who with a harmonic sleight of hand can find the sublime in mere scales, Denk knows how to make art out of ‘a love for the steps, the joys of growing and outgrowing and being outgrown.’”—The New York Times
“This one-of-a-kind musical autobiography by one of our most brilliant and perceptive classical musicians is part illumination of the essence of the musical discourse and part deeply personal, sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious confession of the long and tortuous road to maturity and mastery of a sublime art. Denk’s teachers, alternately inspiring, exasperating, demanding, adoring, and deploring, are evoked in delicious detail in a book that is as sophisticated as a Bach fugue and as American as Tater Tots and Kmart.”—John Adams, composer
“Sometimes you read the first paragraph and know you’ll read to the end. They say writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Jeremy Denk’s book reminds us that dancing about architecture sounds sort of great.”—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
“Among the many virtues of this funny and moving book—its frankness, its generous preservation of wisdom from mentors past, its breathtaking insights about how and why music affects us—one stands out above the rest: It makes me want to practice.”—Conrad Tao, pianist and composer
“A boy tumbles into manhood while learning classical piano in this raucous coming-of-age memoir . . . Denk’s sparkling prose, frankness, and humor make for an indelible portrait of the musician as a bewildered kid.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)