NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST
NPR “BOOKS WE LOVE” SELECTION
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE
A virtuosic debut from a gifted violinist searching for a new mode of artistic becoming
How does time shape consciousness and consciousness, time? Do we live in time, or does time live in us? And how does music, with its patterns of rhythm and harmony, inform our experience of time?
Uncommon Measure explores these questions from the perspective of a young Korean American who dedicated herself to perfecting her art until performance anxiety forced her to give up the dream of becoming a concert solo violinist. Anchoring her story in illuminating research in neuroscience and quantum physics, Hodges traces her own passage through difficult family dynamics, prejudice, and enormous personal expectations to come to terms with the meaning of a life reimagined—one still shaped by classical music but moving toward the freedom of improvisation.
Korean American violinist Hodges debuts with a literary mosaic of invention, inquiry, and wonder that interrogates classical music, quantum entanglement, the Tiger Mother stereotype, and the fluidity of time. The through line is her lifelong study of the violin and how her chronic performance anxiety ("nothing more or less than my fear of relinquishing control over the moment") ended her dreams of becoming a concert solo violinist in her early 20s. To understand how she arrived at that point, she delves into the psychology of musicality, arguing "the desire to make music is as much a desire to assert the individual self as to connect with others." She profiles Gabriela Montero, a classical music outlier whose improvisational talents have fascinated neuroscientists; pays tribute to her mother, a Korean immigrant who gave up music to become a lawyer after graduating from Harvard; condemns her father, a white New England blue blood who thought his children's violin playing "smacked of middle-class' immigrant striving"; and looks to quantum physics to reshape her past ambitions into a "more expansive" love for music. In restrained yet lyrical prose, Hodges moves toward a kind of liberation through and from the "closed system of the canon" to offer a luminous meditation on the ways in which art, freedom, and identity intertwine. This impresses at every turn.
Beautifully Written and Enlightening
An excellent analysis of those things we often feel we failed at, or gave up in life despite our love for them. As a pianist I empathize with this analysis. The premise is honest and reassuring. Well said. Thank you.