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Try, Try Again: A Guitarist's Second Time Around

Aug 18, 2007 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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In the 1979 play Amadeus, Antonio Salieri, the main character, feels blessed by God with musical talent. After he meets Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salieri feels cursed by inadequacy - a feeling that eventually leads him to murder his contemporary.

For Glenn Kurtz, seeing Amadeus on stage was devastating. Kurtz, who was a young guitarist studying at the New England Conservatory, says he internalized Salieri's message, concluding that he, like Salieri, might be mediocre. Though Kurtz had played with Dizzy Gillespie and performed on the Merv Griffin Show when he was a teenager, he eventually gave up the instrument and his dream of becoming a concert guitarist.

But years after quitting the guitar in bitterness, Kurtz picked up the instrument and started practicing, a process that he found became its own reward. In a book that's part memoir, part history and part love letter, Kurtz writes about his renewed relationship with the guitar in Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music.

Throughout the narrative, Kurtz takes time to educate readers on the history of the guitar, the instrument's great artists and its classical repertoire. He switches from the past to the present, gleaning lessons from how practice as an adult can be more profound than slavish practice as a young student. Along the way, Kurtz emphasizes that life's passions can disappoint, but they can also be a source of self understanding.

Kurtz spoke with Scott Simon about his return to music, and played some pieces from his beloved guitar.

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