The Music Teacher
The Music Teacher is a story of failure. It is the story of what could have been, but wasn’t—because of neglect, because of abuse, or for the simple reason that not everyone succeeds. Most people fail.
Protagonist Pearl Swain is one of these failures. Swain was a gifted violinist, but her father hated (and feared) her passion for music so strongly that he burned her violin in a backyard fire. Now Swain is a violin teacher rather than a professional musician, an occupation which she views as a failure. Her marriage is also a failure, having recently ended with her professor husband impregnating another woman and leaving her.
Now, Swain’s life revolves completely around the music store where she gives her lessons, and the staff there, with whom she socializes and debates favorite music and artists a la High Fidelity. Her romantic prospects are limited to the men at the shop. Her life as a music teacher changes when an orphan named Hallie comes in for lessons. Swain identifies with Hallie, who is gifted but lacks the support system necessary for success. While Swain is enamored of the girl’s talent, she discovers that Hallie’s personal problems are far more dangerous than she suspected. But is it already too late? Is Swain already involved enough in Hallie’s life to be harmed?
Hallie acts as the catalyst for many of Pearl’s realizations, about the process through which talent becomes achievement, about parents and family, about her own childhood, and her marriage. Although bitter, Swain is ultimately likeable. The book stands out because of its exploration of failure and its unique juxtapositional setting. (Swain lives in a trailer park in Los Angeles, the city of stardom.)
Unfortunately, neither the writing nor the story is remarkable enough to stay in a reader’s head for long, unless he or she is particularly interested in the career of a professional musician.