Ways of Hearing: Reflections on Music in 26 Pieces is a book of short essays that began as a commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Princeton University Concerts, a concert series established at the prestigious US university in 1894. The curators are the series’ Artistic Director Marna Seltzer and long-time members of the supporting committee Dorothea von Moltke and Scott Burnham. 

Ways of Hearing

Originally intended as a series of essays on the experience of concert music by musicians and “musical thinkers”, the project took off and now spans genres from classical music to pop, with essayists from Richard Powers – whose novels are infused with music, and who writes about the role that music, and particularly Bach, has played in his life and relationships – to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who discusses music and family in an interview with her son James Ginsburg.

Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel writes on the power of Beethoven’s Fidelio, while American mezzo Jamie Barton shares a life-changing experience – the first time she heard Chopin’s Ballade No 2, Op. 38 – as well as her introduction to grunge band Nirvana. Scholar and critic Daphne Brooks writes on Toni Morrison while Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn write about their cross-cultural collaboration. Architect Frank Gehry – the man behind Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles – is interviewed by music critic Mark Swed.

It’s not just traditional essays and interviews, we also have poetry by the likes of Susan Stewart, Susan Wheeler, Robert Pinsky, Jane Hirshfield and Paul Muldoon, while artist Carrie Mae Weems contributes a visual response to the music of Sam Cooke.

Across the 26 easily digestible essays that span subjects from Olivier Messiaen to Charles Mingus, this book gives the reader a unique insight into the role music plays in the lives of some of the world’s great artists and thinkers. 

Available on Apple Books

Princeton University Press, HB, 216pp, $34.99, ISBN: 9780691204475