Uncommon Measure

Uncommon Measure: A Journey Through Music, Performance, and the Science of Time
Natalie Hodges
Bellevue Literary Press (March 22, 2022), 214 pages
Kindle edition $15.38, Amazon paperback $16.19

Natalie Hodges opens her memoir by describing her performance anxiety in playing the violin and writes about her worries over the specific passages in a piece where she was afraid she was going to slip up. She writes about her different violin teachers and their differing approaches. Hodges describes the moment she realized she would never be successful as a concert violinist and put down her instrument. She then spends several pages writing about improvisation. Hodges admits to not being good at improvisation herself but goes into detail about a woman who was accomplished in that regard. She writes about the medical research into musical improvisation and discoveries about how the brain works in that manner.

After dwelling on the abstract concepts of improvisation, Hodges suddenly shifts gears and gives us a concrete picture of her childhood. Her mother gave her the violin to play as soon as she was big enough to hold it in her hands. She was one of four children, all of whom received an instrument. Hodges’s mother was Korean, but she married an upper class white man. At one point in her childhood her father summarily left her mother for a well-off white woman whom he believed was more appropriate for him in what he thought to be his station in life.

Hodges writes about her mother’s efforts to raise the four kids as a single parent and how she ensured that they continue their music education. The author admits that she woke up her mother, exhausted after finally having gotten the youngest sibling to sleep, to have her critique her playing.

In the midst of all of this Hodges digresses and talks about physics: both classical (the law of entropy) and quantum. The author covers a lot of territory in this short book.

Hodges concludes the book by describing how she picked up the violin again one last time to tackle one particularly challenging piece. The then put her violin away permanently. Hodges says playing the violin and then giving it up gave her something to write about and the opportunity for a different creative outlet. I’m sad that she gave up the violin, but I am happy that she took up the written word. I hope we see more of Hodges’s writing.

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