Wednesday, April 24, 2013

by Bill Jones

In 1940, John Tarrant and his younger brother, Victor, were sent to a children's home in Kent, England to live. Their father, Jack, served in the war and their mother, Edna, was too sick to deal with the boys. They thought they would only be in the home for two years but it stretched to seven, interminably, horrendous years. It was a hideous place. When they finally got out and were retrieved by their father, they were no longer children but teenagers and strangers to him. Edna had died of tuberculosis. Jack had remarried. Tarrant couldn't stand his new environment (smoke-filled rooms, clutter, babies) so he looked for a way out. He took up amateur boxing and competed in a few fights earning a mere pittance. Tarrant quit due to injury. Naturally fit and prone to keeping to himself, he turned to long-distance running. When he tried to join a respectable running club, he was turned down. Because Tarrant had taken cash for sport, the authorities banned him from competing anywhere in Britain and overseas. For the next twenty years, he would fight back by appearing at major running events in disguise. When the pistol was fired, Tarrant would throw off his long coat dressed in his running gear and join the other racers. He set world records of 40 miles and 100 miles. Tarrant never gave up his obsession to be legit. All he ever wanted was to have a number on a vest. So while the officials didn't want to have anything to do with him and tried to keep him away from races, they never succeeded. "The Ghost Runner" would always appear (cheered on by his supporters) and win.
This is an incredible story. The author first heard about John Tarrant in 1985 when he was doing a documentary about the Manchester running club (Tarrant was a member) and read his memoir. From that time forward, he would not stop thinking about Tarrant and became intrigued to know more about him.
Tarrant was not a likeable person. He was self-centered, stubborn, lazy, and basically did what he wanted without caring what others thought. His poor wife, Edie, suffered greatly during their marriage yet she supported him through everything.
Bill Jones has written a great book about an unknown man who ran for revenge and justice.
Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

by Mary Sue Welsh

Her first instrument was the piano; she started at an early age. But when she changed teachers, she became disillusioned. Afraid that she would abandon music altogether, her mother bought her a harp for her eighteenth birthday. Now she needed advanced instruction but it was hard to find an independent teacher. She auditioned, twice, at the Curtis Institute of Music for the harp and the piano. Since her skills on the harp were considered too elementary for the brilliant harpist Carlos Salzedo to take her on as his student, she spent six months working with his assistant to bring her up to par.
Less than two years later, in 1929, Leopold Stokowski needed a harpist for his orchestra and she was recommended.
On October 3, 1930, Edna Phillips joined the Philadelphia Orchestra. She was the first female to have a principal position in a major orchestra. Twenty-three years old, scared to death, surrounded by one hundred men who resented her, Phillips held her head high and plowed right through with steely determination.
One Woman in a Hundred is one fabulous book. All of the stuff that went on during rehearsals with Stokowski (how he intertwined all of the musicians together by his theories of how the music should be played), being led by other conductors such as Arturo Toscanini (he screamed), interactions with the other performers, recording for Walt Disney's Fantasia (wires all over the place), the behind-the-scenes intricacies are revealed here.
Mary Sue Welsh writes as if Phillips herself was the author and she did a masterly job.
There are great black-and-white photos of the orchestra, Phillips with her harp (natch), Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Toscanini, et al.
If you're a classical music aficionado, you must get this book. It's funny, fascinating, and an absolute joy to read.
Highly recommended.