sometimes witty book reviews
[W]hat instrument do you want to play? – Who…do you want to be in this world?
In the year 2000, this remarkable person set out to pedal from Shropshire to Hong Kong. Her only companions a bike dubbed Vita an a 3/4 size violin named Aurelia.
By the 9th of December of that year Emma Ayres had pedalled her way through some of the most dangerous regions on earth and played to countless kind and accommodating people. This book is told not chronologically but through the cycle of musical keys (I bet she loved that pun). From C major to E minor to Bb major – a little like Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table names each chapter after an element. Each key signature evokes tales of study, stories from the present, vignettes of childhood and anecdotes of cycling alone through extremely conservative, Islamic countries.
For the first chapter of Cadence (2014) I was a bit alarmed. There was lot of explaining of musical terms (for a bassoonist that is). Surely I didn’t need be told how screechy E strings are for beginner string players – and don’t translate all the Italian musical terms for me! Shouldn’t Ayres know I want to discuss music with her on a higher level? But gradually, I got off my high-browed high horse and settled into an (amateur yet) easy pedal alongside the ABC Classic FM breakfast radio legend. This book is not for musicians, this book is for people.
Over two instruments (viola and cello), a half dozen career moves, 282 pages, 10,000 practice hours and 16,000 kilometres, Ayres deftly deals with presenting (what feels like) a large part of her life to the reader. There were points, I admit, where I had to take a break from reading. Some parts about practice woes and instrument rejection hit very close to home, but then isn’t that what good books should do?
I recommend this book to anyone who’s ever had a music lesson, travelled, ridden a bicycle as an adult or likes a good giggle out loud in public (…and anyone who could legally make Emma Ayres my Fairy Music Mother? Thank you).