Law and Conversation

April 26, 2011

Get your Beethoven on

Filed under: Music,piano — Helen Gunnarsson @ 6:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

My amazing piano teacher, Abraham Stokman, will play a benefit concert for the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami on Wednesday, April 27, at 7 PM at Nichols Recital Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL. Beethoven junkies, this one’s for you: Abe will play not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE (count ’em!) Beethoven sonatas:  Op. 28, Op. 90, Op. 101, Op. 27, No. 2, and Op. 111. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 seniors, $7 students at the door. All proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross.

You can watch a fourteen-minute video of Abe playing part of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations on YouTube.

November 15, 2010

Read This! Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

Today’s Read This! recommendation features “Man’s Search For Meaning,” by psychotherapist Viktor Frankl.  A law professor I know characterized this book as “one of the best books on the planet,” and he’s right.

Frankl tells the story of his experiences as a concentration camp inmate in the Holocaust and then uses his story to make a convincing and beautiful argument that the strongest force driving people is the search for meaning and purpose in their lives.  It’s a book that merits reading and rereading. 

On Friday I posted about my plan to read Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” over the weekend.  Now that I’ve done so, I’d include it on any list of great Holocaust literature or list of seminal graphic novels.  It’s fascinating to see how the cartoons of people as mice, cats, pigs, and dogs (and one frog) work so well with the characters’ conversation to convey Spiegelman’s father’s harrowing story of the Holocaust as well as his son’s own story of how he came to draw and write the book.

Speaking of the Holocaust, there are wonderful YouTube videos of another concentration camp survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer, playing the piano at the age of 106 and telling the story of how music helped sustain her.

And speaking of graphic novels, last week I posted about another graphic novelist whose books I love, Lynda J. Barry.  Nathalie Atkinson at Canada’s National Post calls Barry a “happiness bomb!” in her article of November 12, “Everything is illuminated: Tagging along on Lynda Barry’s magical mystery tour of Toronto.”  Barry is in Chicago today, giving a talk at the Art Institute.

What stories have helped you find a deeper meaning in aspects of your life?

March 26, 2010

Fun is the best reason to learn something!

I played piano for years as a kid and got to be reasonably proficient.  Though I loved playing, I stopped taking lessons on high school graduation and assumed I’d never take lessons again.  Since I wasn’t going to be a professional musician, there was no point to taking lessons after that, was there?

 What wrongheaded notions we can seize on and maintain for years and years, and how lucky we are if we run into someone or something who jolts us into questioning them and, perhaps, realizing that they make no sense.

 I am lucky to have had all kinds of jolts on different ideas, including taking piano lessons as an adult.  28 years after high school graduation, I realized that wanting to take piano lessons as an amateur adult was the best reason in the world for doing so.  So, I enrolled in a local music school and was assigned to the best teacher I’ve ever had.  He’s worked with me on unlearning some bad habits and learning new good habits and pushed me to get a really good piano of my own, not to mention to find time to practice, which is always a challenge for me.  After nearly four years of studying with him, in my assessment (and in my mother’s, who was not only my first piano teacher but, for many years, my only one), I’m playing better now than I ever did as a teenager, though back then I was practicing far more. 

 I know several other adults who are also taking lessons on musical instruments.  Some had the courage to start learning a completely new instrument in midlife, just because they’d always wanted to, and even though they all hold down demanding day jobs that often require long hours.  I know others, including several lawyers, who play professional gigs after long days in the office or in court.  Making music is great brain exercise, not to mention FUN, especially when you get to play with others.

 Here are five fun books to read about the piano, the first three of which are memoirs by writers who decided to take up or resume piano lessons as adults:

 1)      “Piano Lessons:  Music, Love and True Adventures,” by Noah Adams.  Yes, the same Noah Adams who reports and anchors for NPR.  At the age of 51, he decided to take piano lessons because he’d always wanted to do it.  The book is his memoir of one year of lessons.  (Listen to Charlie Rose interview Adams at 

 2)      “The Piano Shop on the Left Bank,” by Thad Carhart, an American writer who lives in Paris, about how his investigation of an initially mysterious piano shop near his home led to his purchase of a piano and resumption of lessons as well as to learning about pianos, their history, and their technicians. Read interviews with Carhart here and here and check out his website at

 3)      “Grand Obsession,” by Perri Knize, a memoir of the writer’s search for the piano of her dreams and, once she finds it (and dubs her “Marlene” for her marvelous tuning), her quest to get the tuning back so she can fall in love again.  Listen to Knize play Marlene at

 4)      “Piano Girl,” by Robin Goldsby, a delightful memoir of how she became a cocktail pianist.  Originally from Pittsburgh, Goldsby now lives in Germany with her family and appears to have a wonderful life and career.  Check her website out at

 5)      “Men, Women, and Pianos,” by Arthur Loesser, a fascinating book about the history of pianos and the people associated with them.

 If you’ve ever thought of resuming music lessons or singing or playing in a group, or of learning to do something that’s always intrigued you, remember that the best reason is just because you want to, and the best time to start is NOW.  If you have any interest in pianos, pay a visit.  Its message boards are troves of information, especially if you’re considering purchasing a piano.  And if you’ve been holding onto some assumptions since you were small, consider whether they make sense and whether they’re helpful to you:  if you challenge them, or seek out people or situations that might challenge them, you might discover that they don’t make sense and you’re happier and better off discarding them.

June 4, 2009

Summer (well, almost) concerts

Filed under: Music — Helen Gunnarsson @ 1:21 pm
Tags: , ,

More than ten years ago, my husband and I read a newspaper story about a 13-year-old kid playing piano professionally at a restaurant in Highwood, IL, on Chicago’s North Shore.  I play piano myself and was mightily impressed by the account of the boy’s holding down a regular gig as a professional musician at such a young age. 

A few years after that, my husband became friends with another lawyer in a Chicago law firm when they worked on a case together; they now have a standing racquetball or tennis date every weekend.  Small world—turns out the kid we read about years earlier is the lawyer’s son.  He’s Eric Stang and isn’t a kid anymore—he’s a very nice young man with a degree from DePaul University’s school of music and has his own band, the Eric Stang Band.  They’re playing tonight in downtown Highland Park, IL, from 7-9 PM in the Port Clinton plaza off Central Street, as part of HP’s summer concert series.  From the publicity flyer:  “Led by local song writer/keyboard/vocalist Eric Stang, this band has built a solid reputation for high-energy musical performances that combine rock, pop, jazz, and a little bit soul.” 

Having been treated to several of Eric’s informal performances as well as having seen Eric and his band in previous years, I can attest that they’re terrific and well worth the trip.  Check out Eric’s website at , which has booking information as well as a link to purchase Eric’s fine CD, “Red Line.”

Create a free website or blog at