There’s always room for cello

Former Gazette reporter displays suite skills in new book

  • Vivien Leung — The Link

from The Link

MONTREAL (CUP) – Classical music is often misconstrued as the exclusive pleasure of brainy music majors and gangly old men in turtlenecks with wiry, ponytailed grey hair. While classical music may have its die-hard fans, scholars and quirky virtuosos, that doesn’t mean it’s beyond the reach of today’s pop and rock crowd.

Eric Siblin offers the uneducated music lover a peek into the world of classical music in his first book, The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece. It won him the McAuslan First Book Prize at the Quebec Writers’ Federation Literary Awards this past November.

Prior to writing the book, Siblin didn’t consider himself classical music-savvy.

“I had zero knowledge,” he explains. “My background was totally in the rock world.”

Siblin plays guitar and is a former pop music critic for the Montreal Gazette. He says he tried to write a book for people like him: those who love music yet know nothing of the classical genre.

Despite his initial lack of expertise on the subject – or perhaps because of it – The Cello Suites is incredibly well-researched.

Siblin’s findings led him to Bach concerts, conventions and finally to Europe. He even attempted to learn how to play the cello as part of his all-inclusive Bach extravaganza. Siblin described this experience as one comparable to learning calligraphy, archery and golf simultaneously.

Siblin tells the story through three separate narratives which intertwine as he unravels the dense trail of mysteries surrounding Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. The book also follows the tale of Pablo Casals, who as a young boy rediscovered the suites and saved them from obscurity. The third narrative is comprised of autobiographical tidbits in which Siblin inserts anecdotes from his own quest to learn the story behind the suites.

Siblin’s personal comments are fresh and entertaining and keep the reader from overdosing on facts or falling into a history-induced coma.

After an engrossing five years spent familiarizing himself with Bach and classical music in general, Siblin is happy to have broadened his musical horizons.

“I’ve become more of a balanced listener who can now listen to Bach as well as to Beck, Bjork, Bono and Bob (Dylan),” he says.

Siblin’s work is thorough, informative and unlike anything you’ve ever read. If you don’t enjoy reading The Cello Suites, you can at least use all of your newly acquired knowledge to brag about your intellectuality to all of your Top-40 friends.

The Cello Suites is available from House of Anansi Press for $29.95.

Published in Volume 64, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 25, 2010)

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