Friday, June 6, 2014 'Jessye Norman: By the Book'

Jessye Norman
(Illustration by Jillian Tanaki)

June 5, 2014

The singer and author of “Stand Up Straight and Sing!” cried when she read Marian Anderson’s autobiography, “My Lord, What a Morning”: “She blessed this earth by walking upon it.”

What books are currently on your night stand?

“At the Bottom of the River,” by Jamaica Kincaid. In this book I find wild imagination keeping joyful company with real life. The broadest, magical mind on display full of dreams and unbridled thought. My eyes grew misty most particularly with “My Mother,” a loving treatise of all that one can imagine, wish and hope a mother to be. I was reminded of the great care lavished on five children — my siblings and myself, not in a dream, but in real life.

“Elder Grace,” by Chester Higgins Jr. A gorgeous book of photographs with the wisdom that living imparts accompanying the portraits. The glory of this book is the glow of time streaming from the faces of these “divine works in progress,” these elders with so very much grace.
“The Law of Love and the Law of Violence,” by Leo Tolstoy. I cannot explain this great book, this guide to nonviolence, better than to take a short passage from it, which for me represents the essence of what Tolstoy would have us understand: “True religion consists in establishing the relation of each of us towards the infinite life that surrounds us, the life that unites us to the infinite, and guides us in all our acts.” A complete world of wisdom in just that sentence!

Do you enjoy reading about composers and musicians? Any books you’d especially recommend?

I enjoy reading about the lives of musicians, and find many similarities in their ideas of preparation and their utter devotion to this great, eternal language: music.

I have enjoyed most particularly reading the correspondence between Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. The genuine friendship, competitiveness and support that thread through their communications are life lessons for us all.

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