Delightful is the best word to describe Ari L. Goldman’s book, The Late Starters Orchestra. Goldman has captured the humor, struggles, humiliations, and triumphs of learning to play the cello for his sixtieth birthday party. The story will resonate with all of us who have decided to acquire a new skill such as speaking Spanish, playing an instrument, becoming a gourmet cook or engaging in significant Torah study at the tender age of fifty, sixty, or older.
The Late Starters Orchestra is much more than a personal journey, it is also a behind the scenes account of a string orchestra. Many of us have heard the “tuning” process that occurs at the beginning of a concert. But did you know that the process of ensuring that the string instruments are “in tune” begins with the instruments playing the note of “A”? The A is an “open string” which means the note is played with one hand — the right hand — the hand that holds the bow. The goal is to try to get a note to sound the same through the entire group.
Many of us confuse the various string instruments but Goldman’s lyrical descriptions of the instruments will stay with you forever. Goldman writes; “In size, the violin is the smallest (at twenty-three inches, just slightly longer than the average newborn) and then up the scale to the viola (twenty-seven inches, a baby at nine months), to the cello (forty-eight inches, a preteen) to the double bass, (sixty to seventy inches, a full-size adult). The string orchestra is a “family unified by a similar look, but each with distinct hues and voices.”
The “birthday concert” was filled with music “from Bach to Carlebach.” Goldman played his cello, accompanied by his son and his friend on the keyboard. It sounded like a glorious achievement: “As I pulled the bow across the strings, I could feel the ‘soul’ of the cello emerge and connect with my soul. For a minute I was taken back to my bar mitzvah….”
You need not be a musician or even a music lover to enjoy this book. It is a heartwarming tale of how in all phases of life doors may open to bring us new sources of joy and achievement. Illustrations.