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Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music

Glenn Kurtz, Author . Knopf $22 (239p) ISBN 978-0-307-26615-6

Waylaid from an early career as a classical guitarist, a teacher of the arts recounts his reimmersion in his music by undertaking an intensive regime of practicing. A serious artist is constantly plagued by the fear that he either has the gift or he doesn't, notes Kurtz, and that no amount of “busy work” can redeem him. Growing up in Great Neck, N.Y., in the 1970s, Kurtz tapped into the Guitar Workshop and mastered folk songs by the time he was 10; inspired by seeing Andrés Segovia perform, Kurtz envisioned a life devoted to music. He studied at Boston's New England Conservatory, where the key to success was constant practicing, and where he had to overcome a sense of the guitar's inferiority to other instruments. Trekking through Europe with other players, he was confronted with the economic exigencies of a musical career and eventually ceased practicing, to his great sorrow. In his mid-30s he took up the guitar again and gleans the painful lesson that although musical artistry may seem divine, mastery of the instrument is humbling and mundane. Kurtz's work contains a rich history of the classical guitar, including the work of Bach, Fernando Sor and Scott Joplin. (June)

Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

Glenn Kurtz. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-3742-7677-5
The rich life of a Jewish town emerges from elusive fragments in this moving Holocaust remembrance. Kurtz (Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music) unearthed his grandparents’ amateur movie, which documented their 1938 vacation trip from New York to Europe, including three minutes of footage from his grandfather’s birthplace in the Jewish district of Nasielsk, Poland. The bustling scenes of townsfolk, almost all of whom were murdered in the Holocaust, prompted Kurtz to comb historical and genealogical records and search out survivors to explain the identities and relationships of the people on film. Engrossing detective work and chance encounters—one casual online viewer recognized a 13-year-old boy in the film as her still-living grandfather—allowed Kurtz assemble a vibrant portrait of Jewish Nasielsk, its homely shops, proud synagogue, quarreling Hasidim and Zionists, impish kids, and, not least, of its harrowing war-time dissolution. He also explores the resurrection of the community’s history, as survivors find images of loved ones lost for generations and forge new bonds. Kurtz’s limpid prose avoids sentimentality but still conveys profound loss and the emotional impact of memories stirred by the film; the result is a haunting elegy to a vanished place and a hopeful evocation of its legacy. Photos. (Nov.)

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