Posts Tagged ‘music’

Interview with Liesel Soley, author of Can You Be an Artist?

Liesel Soley, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and Fulbright scholar in Paris, France, is a professional violinist. Soley has performed solo recitals in the U.S. and France and was the violinist in the piano trio, Trio Viva. She has taught violin at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City and violin and viola at St. Petersburg College and the Pinellas County Center for the Arts in St.Petersburg, Florida.

Presently, Liesel Soley shares her love for music with children, as well as adults in Clearwater, Florida where she teaches violin, viola, and chamber music privately and in an after-school program at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg.

Soley has found a welcome relief from the very disciplined, intensive, and time-consuming work with the violin in her other artistic means of expression; writing, painting and drawing.

Congratulations on the publication of your children’s book, Can You Be an Artist? What got you into writing?

My first writing was when I was in Paris on a Fulbright Grant. I was struggling with the violin and life, and one day when it was very difficult to approach the violin, I just started to write some poetry with no expectations or standards to meet. This took place over a period of about two weeks. It was a kind of a relief and my morale went way up. The poems remained in my violin case for 44 years! I couldn’t quite throw them away.

Then several years ago my family requested I send them personal things I had created which resulted in putting together CDs of some of my solo violin and piano trio performances, a book of my paintings, and Yes! – those poems mentioned above along with some very short stories I wrote up about playing violin in the streets which I had been telling for years! Yes, even though I am a Juilliard graduate, I have hit the streets and had some interesting and fun experiences in the streets of New York, London, and Paris! Some of my friends look aghast at some of the things I do. I just laugh!

So, this brings me to the children’s book I just completed. During the summer some of my students disappear, going to camps and on vacation, so it was either do something creative or sit around and mope because of a lack of work.
“Can YOU Be an Artist?” came into being!

What was your inspiration for Can You Be an Artist?

Working with my violin students and seeing total transformations take place, sometimes quickly and sometimes over a period of years.The violin is extremely challenging and it takes tremendous discipline and persistence to play well. To see the confidence, the self-esteem, the growth of students developing as a result of participating in the arts is rewarding and exciting. Taking part in orchestras, recitals, and competitions can give such a sense of accomplishment to these youngsters. Although I have mostly seen this as a musician, I know that students in all the arts tend to excel in other areas as well, such as in school. Individuals who express themselves through the arts, who create, are happier and more successful. I know this with absolute certainty and wanted to express this.

What message you hope readers will get from your book?

As indicated in my authors note, one can create in many ways, “— If one truly creates beauty and quality in what one does and if this translates to others one is actively being an artist.”

Also – Dare To Follow Your Dreams! Dare To Be Yourself! Dare to Be Free!!

Tell us about what your writing process was like for this book. Did you outline it first? Did you edit it as you went along?

The structure, using the three different art forms and the three kids just popped up. I mocked it up very quickly. As I have a number of Korean students I wanted one of the kids to be Korean. Each child was very real to me. Because I was able to be Freddie, or Honey, or Bae it was easy to write their feelings, about their families etc. Using the first person for them seemed very natural.The few word changes or added took place after the writing was done as a whole.

You also illustrated the book. Give us a glimpse into the mind of the author/illustrator persona? Did you write the story first and later illustrate it?

The writing was done first although I had illustrations in mind. There was an original mock-up of the book with far fewer illustrations than in the completed published book. A number of people had commented that there were too few illustrations, too many words per page, that the colors were weak and there were not enough details for kids. I agreed, so the next summer (2010) I decided to handle the things that were not ok and complete the book.

It was very difficult for me. I added 12 more drawings and totally changed all the existing ones except for 2, and even those I had to do all over because the paper was different!

I would lie awake at night mocking up the next illustration – hardly slept for 2 months. I was excited and determined to finish within two months before the school season started. The work was intense. I mocked up the illustrations easily but when it came to the execution of the drawings in terms of enough color it drove me nuts. I would create the drawing rather quickly then invariably at a certain point I would have exactly what I wanted but not enough color and I would stop and move on to the next illustration! I did not have the certainty and courage to do full color right off! I was afraid I would mess up on those tiny little lines or dots or whatever, like with expressions on faces, and that I would have to do the whole picture over again!

O Man, I ended up going over these illustrations three times – the entire picture 3 times – each time adding another layer of color, each time in more agony than the previous time! It was awful! I was an idiot!

I am laughing at the whole experience. Not being trained in painting, drawing, or illustrating, this was more than a learning experience! It was literally painful! I was doing these drawings leaning over the dining room table with a lot of weight on my left arm and hand pressing down on the table while I meticulously (and gingerly!) proceeded to work with my right hand. A little before the end of the 2 months I felt like a cripple! I could not play the violin for over 2 weeks! Next time it is full color on the first shot!!! and with a decent set up!

What made you decide to publish your book with Book Publishers Network?

I had used a POD place for the book of my paintings and although I was very happy with the results it was a lot of keeping at it to get exactly what I wanted. For my book with the poems and short stories about playing in the streets I used Apple. It was nice – but expensive.

I wanted a publisher that had a team of experts, someone with whom I could communicate easily and someone who would get the job done quickly. Sheryn Hara with Book publishers Network had been recommended by an author/illustrator acquaintance as being very good for first time authors with plenty of experience and expertise and she really cared for her authors. She sent me samples of children’s books which I really liked. She was exactly what I wanted. She was hooked up with a fine printer so my book was completed!

Also, I wanted a wider audience for this book- not just family and friends.

What was the publishing process like?

Things moved along very well. Sometimes there would be suggestions but my needs and wants as an artist were totally respected. It was suggested I use some kind of border around the pictures and a number were shown to me but I really did not want that and that was totally accepted. I groaned when Sheryn Hara said the cover of the book which I had done needed to be jazzed up. I told her I did not want anyone else doing any of the art work. She immediately said none of the art work would be disturbed – just the background would be made more alive. I was sent a number of possibilities and love the one I chose. I find it very aesthetic and am glad my publisher pushed me in that respect.

I was glad not one word of my writing was changed. There would have been a fight if changes had been wanted. Punctuation had to be handled! No problem! Book Publishers Network is hooked up with a fine printer and the book was completed!

What is your schedule like? How do you balance your violinist, music instructor, artist, and writer personas?

At this time in my life I am primarily teaching violin, viola and chamber music, but my involvement in my other arts has increased considerably! I teach privately at my home 7 days a week and 3 afternoons in an after school program at Shorecrest . There are music teachers meetings to attend, and recitals and competitions to arrange. Add to that violin presentations and now book signings and work on PR. I also have arranged to have some of my young students perform at book stores and libraries where I have book signings. Things are busy! The short answer to your question is – I am very focused on what I am doing at any given moment, and I work hard 7 days a week. I thrive on lots of fast action!

Do you have tips for unleashing and nurturing one’s creativity?

Sure – find something you have really wanted to do and START! Be true to yourself, maintain your integrity and do not let others throw you. Go at your own pace, keep it light and have FUN! If it is not always fun -well, so what!

Are you working on another book? What’s on the horizon for you?

Not at the moment, but I have a couple in mind. I am not setting a timetable. I have a way of doing things spontaneously at the right time for me. The future looks interesting, challenging and fun. And there are definitely unknowns! I like it that way.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?

Yes, I would love to hear from you – to know if my book has inspired you or your children or your grandchildren. Also, I would be delighted to have you visit my web site and be in communication with me.


Interview with Robert Shlasko, author of Molly and the Sword

The children’s book, Molly and the Sword, tells of a young girl who, with the help of a mysterious horseman, overcomes obstacles on the road to success as a violinist. It has garnered rave mollyreviews from music and education magazines. Here to talk about the book is author Robert Shlasko.

Thanks for this interview, Robert. I understand this is your first book.

Yes, but I’ve been a writer all my working life — science, international trade, business, speeches … pretty much any sort of writing where I could make a living.

Anything for children?

Some — when my own children were young. Fiction and non-fiction. For example, my articles on chess appeared in a leading children’s magazine.

So where did the idea for Molly and the Sword come from?

It started as an incident that had happened to my mother in the first World War. I moved the story back about a century. Then, to advance the plot, I added the violin since that was the instrument my son played. Curiously, after the book came out, I met a woman who told of a similar incident that happened to her grandmother.

Art imitating life and life imitating art.

That’s what I tell the students when I read in the schools.

Do you visit schools often?

Every chance I get. I’ve read in private and public schools, at a Montessori school, at a United Nations school. In two weeks I’m returning for my third visit to an elementary school in a multi-ethnic section of Queens, New York.

What ages are the students?

I’ve read in everything from the first to the fifth grade. As you can imagine, the discussions get a lot more sophisticated in the upper grades. But each level brings its own questions and its own pleasures for me. I say the book’s for ages 7-12 – although I know that’s a big range.

Yes, I read one reviewer who even stretched that age range a bit.

Both up and down. In fact, I get letters from adults who respond to the story. A 25-year-old violinist in the Iraqi National Symphony wrote that she uses the book as a defense against stage fright. And I’ve received notes from adult men who’ve admitted to shedding tears at the emotions raised in the story. Yet there’s nothing depressing or frightening in the plot. I find it surprising that, if anything, fathers seem to react more emotionally than anyone to the story.

Yet the book is dedicated to “brave girls.”

Yes, but boys really respond to it too. One fourth-grade boy who’d come from India wrote that he would “tell my sisters to be brave like Molly.” And at another school reading, a third-grade boy handed me a piece of garnet he’d collected with his father and ran off before I could give it back. As you can imagine, the dedication to girls raises lots of discussions during my school visits.

What other subjects do the children raise in the schools?

I’m usually with a group of students for about an hour. After I’ve read, I let the children move the discussion in any direction that want. It varies widely. The major themes in the book are having confidence in yourself, how courage shows itself in many ways not just in fighting, and the idea that enemies can become friends. About that last point: I try to tie it to how they relate to schoolmates they may not get along with. And in almost every session something unexpected comes up.

Such as?

Well, at the very beginning of the book I mention that Molly’s mother was pregnant. At a Montessori school in South Carolina a young girl wanted to know what happened to the baby. I reassured her that mother and child were doing well. Whatever the questions, we manage to touch on their own writing and its importance to their futures.

So you do discuss writing per se?

Absolutely. It often comes up in the context of having confidence in yourself. I tell of writers they’ve read who had the courage to go on even after receiving one rejection after another. Of course, that applies to musicians too.

I notice you have many of the letters, from all over the world, on your website.

Yes, plus items on education, violins and music in general. In fact, this interview may push me into updating the site with fresh items sitting on my desk. Not every letter gets on the site. For example I haven’t yet posted a wonderful letter from a 10-year-old girl in Canada who ask why Molly’s violin didn’t have a chin rest like hers did.

That sounds like a good question.

Indeed. I explained that before my artist started working on the book, I checked with an expert on violins at the music department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York. He sent me an article on the invention of the chin rest in the early 1800s. So we felt comfortable leaving it out of the illustrations. This research led to more information on music history, and into women in that history, which finds its way on to the website and into my class readings.

Do you play an instrument?

Alas no — thus far! But two of my grandchildren play the violin and one plays the cello. And all play the piano.

Whether you play or not, your book is in many performing arts centers.

Fortunately yes. I dropped it off at a concert hall gift store in New York and it just spread out from there. It’s at the gift shops of Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, the Boston Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony and so on all across the country.

How about retail outlets?

Music stores carry it and it’s available on order from the bookstores and the usual suspects – Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other websites. But as a first-time author/publisher, I made many early mistakes that hurt distribution – especially with the general bookstores.

As opposed to music bookstores?

Exactly. But as you pointed out in your terrific review, the book is not just for violinists or other musicians, it’s for all children. That’s what I aimed for when I started writing the book. And the reaction in the classrooms confirm this.

Yet limited distribution must have hurt your income.

Indeed. In fact, last year a girl asked if I arrived at her school in my limousine. I guess they all know of J.K. Rowlings. But I had to tell the class that I arrived by subway and, in fact, don’t own a car. Still, putting out the book has been a great experience – especially the interactions with schools, the music world, publishing and parents all over the world.

Do you have other writing projects in the works?

A painful question. Actually, I have a number of manuscripts: another children’s book, an adult mystery, a play and a teenage adventure story — all waiting for final editing. Again, your interview may push me into action.

Thanks for the interview and good luck with your book!

Review of THE SAVIOR, by Eugene Drucker

The Savior
By Eugene Drucker
Simon and Schuster
July 2007
208 pages

Reviewed by Terez Rose

Eugene Drucker, violinist and founding member of the acclaimed Emerson Quartet, takes a heavy subject—the Holocaust—and uses his musician’s sensibilities to produce a searing, unforgettable pitch-perfect story. Gottfried Keller is a German violinist, languishing in the troubled, waning days of World War II. Unable to fight for Germany due to a weak heart, he has been conscripted into performing for convalescing soldiers in hospitals. One morning, however, he is picked up by the SS and delivered to a labor camp outside town. There, the cultured yet depraved Kommandant instructs him to present four concerts as part of an experiment: can classical music revive the spirits of a select group of nearly-dead concentration camp victims?

Keller has seen the smokestacks of the compound’s windowless brick buildings, belching out acrid smoke. “Rubber-making factory,” he and his neighbors have been told. He now sees the camp’s grey-faced, skeletal workers shuffling in the distance. Reluctantly he agrees to the Kommandant’s plan, well aware that he has few alternatives.

Drucker’s passages of describing music are nothing short of exquisite—he offers the detail and insight of a musicologist with the appealing brevity and clarity of an artist mindful of his audience. Keller first performs Paganini’s Caprice Number Nine in E Major, a virtuoso masterpiece.

“The lighthearted opening theme of the Ninth alternates with more dramatic sections in minor keys. There are fistfuls of chords, rapid scales in the high register and a passage of ricochet, a special technique in which the bow is thrown onto the string to produce a series of rebounding notes.”

Keller’s performance, however, is met with an unexpected response. There is only a grim, absolute silence until the Kommandant shouts at the inmates to clap. As the guards press closer with their guns, they begin to clap mechanically, and then won’t stop.

“He got ready to play [again], but their hands still came together with grim regularity as they stared straight ahead. He brought down his violin and looked around, not knowing what to do. Finally a guard stamped his foot, just once, and there was silence.”

Images like these—eerie and psychologically complex—are what keep this novel from being “just another Holocaust story.” The subtlety of it, the simplicity and freshness of the images are much like the music of Bach and Mozart—deceptively simple to the untrained ear, but revealing layer upon layer of complexity to those who choose to dig further.

The story is peppered with flashbacks to Keller’s days as a music student at Cologne’s prestigious Hochschule, and his relationship with fellow students Ernst (based on his own father who emigrated to the U.S. in 1938) and Marietta, both of whom are Jewish and must soon flee the country in the wake of growing persecution.

Keller’s final student days in 1935, including his developing closeness and romantic interest in Marietta, are lyrical and bittersweet. There is no easy solution for the two lovers—she begs him to audition for a newfound orchestra bound for Palestine, but his Aryan status works against him here. One solution, proposed by Marietta, is to find him forged papers that would state he was a Jew. A dangerous plan in 1935 Nazi Germany for a musician who wants to avoid trouble and simply play his music in his homeland. The reader doesn’t know whether to cheer the spirited Marietta on or to hastily push her out the door and lock it.

The novel, like life, has irony, not least of which is its title. Keller plays his music in an attempt to save both himself and his dispirited audience, which include Grete, a woman he briefly befriends. Not all his listeners, however want to be saved. Some deeply resent this attempted return of beauty and culture to their lives; they recognize the trick being played on them.

Irony appears again in Rudi, an SS camp guard, who, surprisingly, reveres classical music and Bach as deeply as Keller. The two engage in a spirited discussion over Bach’s “Saint Matthew’s Passion,” specifically the violin solo that depicts Judas trying to reject his earned thirty silver pieces. Rudi’s ambivalence over his own role is clear, particularly when he declares Judas “was just the pawn of larger forces.”

Keller cannot remain blind to what is happening, particularly after he discovers a warehouse holding thousands of pairs of shoes. “Men’s, women’s children’s. Mostly simple walking shoes, but also a sprinkling of sandals, heavy boots and house slippers. Some were in good condition, but most of them were dried out, dusty, weather-beaten, shapeless, a mute chorus of gaping mouths.” But Keller’s only choice is to continue performing, concluding with a searing rendition of Bach’s masterpiece, the Chaconne from his Partita in D Minor, with unexpected and devastating consequences for both him and his audience.

Drucker has not written a sentimental, moralistic tale. Gottfried Keller is neither perpetrator, victim, hero or dissident. He is an average German citizen, slow—or perhaps unwilling—to comprehend the full extent of the atrocities being committed, and the story’s pacing reflects this. What starts as a gently melancholy read culminates in a violent, disturbing climax (perhaps a bit too heavy-handed for such an otherwise subtly-rendered novel). Here, then, is a thought-provoking exploration of conscience, a bittersweet take on a culture that gave us both Hitler and Bach. A powerful story, a must-read for classical music and arts enthusiasts.

–Terez Rose’s stories and essays have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Literary Mama, Espresso Fiction, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and various anthologies. She has reviewed book for Mid-American Review, Peace Corps Writers, Midwest Book Review and An adult beginner on the violin, she maintains a violin-related blog at Visit her at