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and Other Life Lessons

FALLING OFF THE PODIUM and Other Life Lessons<

     Falling Off the Podium and Other Life Lessons is a warm and wise anthology of tales from a most engaging musical artist, Dr. John V. Sinclair, the esteemed Musical Director of the Bach Festival Society and a renowned conductor of choral and orchestral works and festivals.


 By Terry Teachout

MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, the life and work of a conductor are an impenetrably mysterious business to non-musicians. Exactly what is he doing waving that stick around up there on the podium—and who taught him how to wave it?

    Conductors don’t play anything, yet they conjure up music out of thin air, and everyone, including their colleagues, watches them do it. In my experience, no line of artistic work is harder for laymen to understand. Yet conductors, perhaps in part because of this seemingly inexplicable aspect of their careers, tend to be fascinating creatures, and on the rare occasions when they write memoirs, the results are always worth reading.

   I’ve known John Sinclair for the better part of both our lives and have worked with him in a wide variety of capacities, always with pleasure and profit. Not only is he a superbly accomplished artist, but he’s also a great storyteller; the kind of man with whom you always look forward to dining after a performance. Yet I’d only heard a handful of the tales that he tells in Falling Off the Podium … and Other Life Lessons, some of which are charming and funny, others deeply poignant, and all immensely interesting to read.

   John is, like me, a small-town boy from Missouri, a regular guy (something that can’t be said of all that many conductors!) who ended up making his way in the larger world of art as a musician, teacher, director of first-rate musical festivals, and conductor. I started out as a musician and knew some of the people about whom he writes in these pages, and every word he writes, about them and everything else, has the bright ring of remembered, fully told truth.

   As John says in You Can’t Hide, one of the concise, pithy essays that make up Falling Off the Podium, “Music exposes phonies.” It sure does, and so does writing a memoir. To read this one is to come away certain that its genial author is one of the least phony musicians—and men—you could ever hope to meet.

   What strikes me most forcibly about John’s book, however, is the accumulated wisdom that is to be found in between his stories. He is a thoughtful artist, and a humane one. It is precisely because there is so much more to him than music that there is so much more to his conducting than mere baton-waggling.

   Knowing him has been one of the signal pleasures of my life, and you’ll get to know him as he really is in the pages of this book. Needless to say, that isn’t true of all memoirs, but reading Falling Off the Podium is…well, almost as much fun as having dinner with its author after a concert. I can’t say better than that!


    TERRY TEACHOUT is the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal and the author of biographies of Louis Armstrong, George Balanchine, Duke Ellington, and H.L. Mencken. He has also written two plays, Satchmo at the Waldorf and Billy and Me, the libretti for three operas by Paul Moravec, and the text for Moravec’s Music, Awake!, a choral work premiered in 2016 by John Sinclair and the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park.


FALLING OFF THE PODIUM and Other Life Lessons

Phenomenal Publishing