The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

I’ve been wanting to read The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto because I enjoyed Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie, and I thought this would be even better because it is narrated by the voice of Music.

The story begins in August 1936 in Spain in an erratic 6/5 tempo. Frankie was born amid the cacophony of ringing bells and clamorous destruction. It is not so much the tale of how this orphan was adopted by a blind music teacher and how he became the greatest guitarist that  captivates me; it is that Albom did a lot of research about music (esp guitar music) and musicians (not just guitarist but well-known composers and musicians of different genres). Some examples are:

  • Lagrima (‘Teardrop’) – a landmark guitar piece composed by Francisco Tarrega (Frankie’s original name is Francisco) and performed by the great Andrei Segovia
  • Traumerei by Schumann
  • 12 Etudes by Heitor Villa-Lobos
  • Vivaldi
  • Ferdinando Carulli
  • Dizzy Gillespie, the jazz trumpet player who once said: “It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play. Silence enhances music. What you do not play can sweeten what you do.”
  • Modest Mussorsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition and how he died at 42 of alcohol consumption
  • Billie Holiday (how she died at 44 because her liver  had been destroyed by drinking)
  • Charlie Parker (died in his mid-30s of drug overdose)
  • Tommy Dorsey (died at 51 because he choked in his sleep and was too deep in pills to awaken)
  • Jimi Hendrix (died at age 27 from swallowing a handful of barbiturates)
  • Hank Williams (his bloodstream was laced with morphine when he was found dead in his car)
  • Tony Bennett – singer, painter, Grammy winner, Kennedy Center honoree and one of my favourite singers
  • The Drifters’ Save The Last Dance For Me was written by Doc Pomus, a polio victim

I also like how Albom describes certain phenomenon using music analogy:

  • In Western music, things resolve. A suspended 4th moves back to the 3rd. A diminished chord slides to its tonic. Dissonance to consonance. Humans follow no such rules. Music allows for quick creation. But it is nothing compared with what humans can destroy in a single conversation.
  • Love + Music = Duet; All love stories are symphonies, and like symphonies, they have 4 movements –

Allegro – a quick and spirited opening

Adagio – a slow turn

Minuet/Scherzo – short steps in 3/4 time

Rondo – a repeating theme, interrupted by various passages

Finally, music can soothe a soul. The body is another matter. Music is in the connection of human souls, speaking a language that needs no words. Everyone joins a band in this life. (A statement that recurs repeatedly throughout the book.) And what you  play affects someone. Sometimes it affects the world.

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