THE BOOK: A book about classical music, a theft and a love story? What is not to love, and love this book I did. Ray McMillian is a young black man from North Carolina who lives music. He can feel it in every pore of his body as he practices on his school-issued violin. His mother, who calls his practicing “noise,” is pressuring him to get his GED quickly so he can get a job at Popeye’s and contribute to the family finances. When Ray is offered a full music scholarship to Markham University, his life suddenly becomes full of possibility. The only one in his family who supported him was his Grandma Nora, so he was used to the sort of invisibilty that comes when those around you don’t see you for who you really are. Then his grandmother gifted him her PopPop’s violin in its green alligator case, and things became really interesting.
THE BEAUTY: I kept a list of all the music that was referenced in the book. Here are just a few of the ones that were more meaningful to Ray:
Rhosymedre by Ralph Vaughn Williams (He always played this for his grandmother.)
Violin Concerto #5 in A Major by Mozart
Serenade Melancolique in B-flat minor for violin and orchestra by Tchaikovsky
Ray explains his feelings for music in this beautiful excerpt:
“There were those who would say that only Russians can play Russian music: that it’s not in the blood of non-Russians…Ray, of course, would disagree. He would tell you that music is truly a universal language, and that we, the listeners, will always impose our own fears and biases, our own hopes and hungers, on whatever we hear. He would tell you that the rhythm that spurred on Tchaikovsky is the same rhythm that a kid in a redneck North Carolina town would beat with a stick against a fallen tree. It is a rhythm in all of us. Music is about communication- a way of touching your fellow man beyond and above and below language; it is a language all its own.”
THE FOOD: Ray was headed toward a career at the local Popeyes restaurant until fate intervened. My husband mentioned Popeyes’ chicken when we passed a store a couple of weeks ago. It was something he had a lot in college and hadn’t had it since, so when I was thinking about food for this blog, I thought I’d make us both happy by surprising him with lunch on our recent shopping trip. Sadly, the lobby of the establishment wasn’t open, but when we got our takeout at the window we learned that the lobby was closed because they are understaffed. Going into our third year of the pandemic and employers are still struggling to fill vacant positions!