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Classical 101

Kazuo Ishiguro's "Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall"

If you've ever uttered the phrase "they're playing our song," if you've ever used music to fill a void in your life, if you've ever wondered what it is about music that it can so easily to get under the skin, then you have something in common with the characters in Kazuo Ishiguro's short story collection Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009). Best known as the author of The Remains of the Day, Ishuguro writes the stories in Nocturnes with the same gentle yet penetrating touch that has become his hallmark. The muse that music's name alludes to is no lady, and in all five of the collection's stories, Ishiguro's characters become obsessed with her, take solace in her, chase after her and jealously guard her with heartbreaking clarity.

  • A once-popular crooner in his later years pursues a comeback even as his personal life unravels
  • An aspiring songwriter questions his future when two middle-aged professional musicians, whose lives now revolves around playing crowd-pleasing but emotionally shallow music, cross his path
  • A professional jazz musician undergoes plastic surgery to try to satisfy a media-crazed audience more interested in charisma than musical accomplishment;
  • A musician protects her talent so fiercely that it never gets developed.

All these stories show us that music can be more than just a soundtrack to life; it can be motivation for how we actually live it.