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2021 Top Summer Reads for Music Educators

Congratulations, music educators! You've made it through a doozy of a year, and we applaud you. You've all had to stretch yourselves in ways you never thought possible, and many of you had to adopt technical know-how in an instant.

For that reason, we're dedicating the majority of our 2021 Top Summer Reads to music-themed books and novels, with a lighter approach towards "educate thyself" recommendations. 

The Connolly Music team and our StringOvation followers commend your dedication, bow in gratitude, and invite you to take as much time as you need to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.

Our Only "Academic" Recommendation

In case you can't help yourself and feel you need to read at least one book for "academic purposes," we direct your attention to "Better Than Carrots or Sticks: Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management," by Dominique Smith, Douglas Fisher, and Nancy Frey. It's as enjoyable as it is inspirational. As you return to classrooms full (or half-full) of students again, classroom management will be more critical than ever. Students in their isolation have experienced levels of anxiety, fear, and a global awareness they may not have been as aware of in the past. 

Learning restorative practices for social engagement and classroom management will help you assimilate students in collaborative and cooperative ways while helping to facilitate more heart/soul-centered communication when controversy arises.

Contemporary Non-Fiction

However, we are always supporters of any new or innovative biographical takes on the standard roster of classical composers and musicians — some impressive versions about contemporary musicians considered to be cultural shifters and shakers are available.

If you aren't already fans of the musician/songwriters these books covered, learning more about them can help you inspire your 21st-century music students.

"This Isn't Happening: Radiohead's "Kid A" and the Beginning of the 21st Century," by Steven Hyden

Some music journalists and critics believe Radiohead's album Kid A, launched in 2000, helped to shape 21st century culture and social movements. Hyden dives deep into the album. He wrote his book to read like a detective story as he explores how Kid A "stopped being about the future" and "came to evoke everything vital and terrifying and unknowable about now." 

"The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America," by Marcus J. Moore

Music journalists and hip-hop critics consider Kendrick Lamar to be one of the most groundbreaking and inspiring hip-hop artists of the past decade. Lamar has sold more than one million albums, and his fan base is spread far and wide across the globe. Moore explores Kendrick Lamar's music and how it has ignited the soul of black Americans. 

In case you aren't sure how that connects to your work as a classical music educator, watch this YouTube video of the famous violin duo, Black Violin, as they cover Kendrick Lamar's song, "Alright." Making connections between classical music and pop culture is one of the best ways to inspire young music students, especially those who identify with marginalized populations.

"My Life in the Purple Kingdom," by BrownMark

The artist formerly known as Prince (TAFKAP) changed his name to this symbol to protest how corporate labels feel they "own" artists and their work. While Prince (who passed away from a drug overdose in 2016) is widely known and highly respected for his superior musicianship, working with him was extremely challenging. He was quite the taskmaster.

BrownMark is an American bassist and music producer who played for Prince on the iconic Purple Rain album and multiple consecutive albums and tours. BrownMark remembers what it was like to work with Prince, including the discipline it takes to meet a demanding musician's expectations while still maintaining one's sense of self and musical autonomy.

And, if students find it hard to grasp how Prince fits into the classical music scene, you can share this NPR article, Prince...Was Royalty in the Classical World, Too.

Now, A Fictional Approach to Music

Ready to kick back and transport yourself to a fictional world? Here are our top 3 choices for musical fiction.

"The Cellist of Sarajevo," by Steven Galloway

While standing in a bread line, a cellist witnesses a shell exploding. In the aftermath, he commits to playing his cello for 22 days straight, one day for each of the 22 victims. From there, the novel weaves together the stories of four different characters, including two men who are still searching for bread and water for their families and a female sniper who has the cellist in her gun's sight. 

"The Piano Teacher," by Jancie Y. K. Lee

A NYT bestseller, this novel is, well, "complicated." A pair of tragic love stories during and after WWII with a traumatized Englishman at its center. A Eurasian beauty who does what she must to survive during the Japanese occupation. Mix in a naïve newly married Englishwoman who arrives ten years later and becomes the piano tutor to the Eurasian beauty's niece, whose family chauffeur is the war-scarred Englishman. Set in Hong Kong during the 1940s and '50s, the novel is fraught with atmosphere, tension, and moral dilemmas. Binge-read-worthy fare.

"The Metropolis Case," by Matthew Gallaway

This novel takes you between two different eras and settings, including 1860s Paris and 1970s Pittsburgh, PA, to famous 1960s performance halls and 21st century NYC. It weaves the stories of an unlikely quartet of music-minded individuals across the decades and continents bound together by their mutual passion for Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. 

That reminds us to re-recommend "Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the World's Musical Masters," by Elizabeth Lunday (Author), Mario Zucca (Illustrator). It shares some little-known facts about composers, including Wagner. 

We mentioned it in our post, 9 Inspiring Reads for the String Musician, where you can find more great summer reading recommendations for music educators from both fiction and non-fiction genres. Happy reading (and relaxing)!