Out on 26 May 2022

Every Good Boy Does Fine

Jeremy Denk

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26 May 2022
384 pages



A uniquely illuminating memoir of the making of a musician, in which renowned pianist Jeremy Denk explores what he learned from his teachers about classical music: its forms, its power, its meaning - and what it can teach us about ourselves.

In this searching and funny memoir, based on his popular New Yorker article, renowned pianist Jeremy Denk traces an implausible journey. Life is difficult enough as a precocious, temperamental, and insufferable six-year-old piano prodigy in New Jersey. But then a family meltdown forces a move to New Mexico, far from classical music’s nerve centers, and he has to please a new taskmaster while navigating cacti, and the perils of junior high school. Escaping from New Mexico at last, he meets a bewildering cast of college music teachers, ranging from boring to profound, and experiences a series of humiliations and triumphs, to find his way as one of the world’s greatest living pianists, a MacArthur 'Genius,' and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall.

There are few writers working today who are willing to eloquently explore both the joys and miseries of artistic practice. Hours of daily repetition, mystifying early advice, pressure from parents and teachers who drove him on an ongoing battle of talent against two enemies: boredom and insecurity. As we meet various teachers, with cruel and kind streaks, Denk composes a fraught love letter to the act of teaching. He brings you behind the scenes, to look at what motivates both student and teacher, locked in a complicated and psychologically perilous relationship.

In Every Good Boy Does Fine, Denk explores how classical music is relevant to 'real life,' despite its distance in time. He dives into pieces and composers that have shaped him Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms, among others and gives unusual lessons on melody, harmony, and rhythm. Why and how do these fundamental elements have such a visceral effect on us? He tries to sum up many of the lessons he has received, to repay the debt of all his amazing teachers; to remind us that music is our creation, and that we need to keep asking questions about its purpose.

Denk . . . has written a book that shows what it’s like to be a pianist, but also what it’s like to be Jeremy Denk. As if that were not enough, it is also about the elements of music, and beyond that an account of the ways in which music and life mirror each other. It is a book like none other.

New York Review of Books

A treasure . . . Denk addresses quite complex issues with extraordinary clarity, illustrating musical points with (frequently very witty) similes and metaphors. He informs, reminisces and entertains in equal measure.

Wonderful . . . a lesson for the reader in how to listen with more care and wonder to what’s behind the notes we hear. It also makes a strong case for why classical music, with its beauty and ecstasy, matters more than ever.