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The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier    by Thaddeus Carhart order for
Piano Shop on the Left Bank
by Thaddeus Carhart
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2002 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank introduces the reader, along with the author, to a forgotten world of music. Along the route to his children's kindergarten school in a quiet quartier of Paris, Thaddeus Carhart regularly passed a little storefront with 'the tools and instruments of piano repair' displayed in the window. It pulled him in to a new friendship and to a renewed interest in continuing his musical education.

The owner of the atelier, Luc, 'part detective, part archaeologist, part social critic', shared his passion for pianos, their history, and all the factors which make them unique. He admired people whose pianos were kept 'au sein de la famille' ('at the heart of the family') and shared his pragmatic philosophy; 'Life is a river ... and we all have to find a boat that floats.' There are fascinating insights on these instruments, for example that a piano's mechanism is as complicated as a clock's, but you don't pound on a clock.

The author reminds us of a world without electricity, televisions or computers, when 'the piano was the ideal social lubricant.' He finally succumbed to the temptation of buying from Luc a diminutive and 'plucky' Stingl baby grand, a 'Cinderella of an instrument', while continuing to enjoy the ongoing drama of the arrival and placement of orphaned instruments. The atelier became a social center for him, bringing together a disparate group (from a linguistics professor to an auto mechanic) with a common interest in music.

Read The Piano Shop on the Left Bank if you share the author's appreciation of Paris, or his love for music. Luc is a fascinating character, a pragmatic artisan with a depth of knowledge, someone that Kipling would have admired. Many of the technical details on piano playing were beyond me, but I was fascinated by discussions of skills required for piano tuning or to be an accompanyist, and odd facts like the signing of the innards of the instruments by craftsmen or the making of sitar strings by Cistercian monks. You will be too.

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