Jan in 35 Pieces

Jan in 35 Pieces is a memoir by Ian Hampton.

Ian Hampton

In his memoir, Jan in 35 Pieces, acclaimed cellist Ian Hampton recounts his years of music and camaraderie, ably capturing his life-long dedication to the history and culture of classical musical performance.

With charm, humour and a generous smattering of musical history, cellist Ian Hampton takes readers into the cello section of the London Symphony Orchestra, performing The Rite of Spring under the baton of Pierre Monteux; into a ubiquitous Bombardier snow-machine tracking across the Arctic, late for a concert with members of the CBC Radio Orchestra; to a basement party where Ian plays Schubert with Stradivarius-wielding cellist Jacqueline du Pré; and on to the stage at Wigmore Hall in London, premiering the works of innovative Canadian composers with the Purcell String Quartet. Structured as if it were a concert, Jan in 35 Pieces revolves around 35 compositions that have influenced the course of Ian's long career. 

By turns reflective and humorous, this beautifully paced book chronicles the trials and triumphs of a life devoted to music and defined by the people he worked with and loved. - 2019 RBC Taylor Prize jury

Jan in 35 Pieces is more than a memoir — it is an extravaganza of music history in which Hampton offers smart, playful glimpses into the world of a professional musician. (From Porcupine's Quill)

Jan in 35 Pieces is on the shortlist for the 20190 RBC Taylor Prize.

Why Ian Hampton decided to write a memoir

"I didn't really start out to write a memoir. I wanted to write about the music and I felt it better to be in the third person and not to put myself out front. When you talk about music, it's a very abstract thing. I wanted to get at the subject a little obliquely through anecdotes to try and convey to the reader the lives that musicians lead, as well as the way music affects them and the way they want to play music.

I'm trying to convey the value of music and the way that I value it. I chose 35 pieces of music.- Ian Hampton

"It sort of became a bit of a memoir as we went along. One's life naturally impinges on music and so details of my personal life crept in. My wonderful editor, Barbara Nickel, would say, 'Well, you can't just leave the reader dangling. You need to tie this up.' So more details of my personal life came into it. But principally, I'm trying to convey the value of music and the way that I value it. I chose 35 pieces of music. I suppose I could have chosen 70 if the space permitted."

Read more in his interview with CBC Books.

From the book


Down London's Baker Street, Jan and his mother, Elf, pick their way around shards of glass and pieces of masonry on their way to Jan's cello lesson. As they pass Madame Tussaud's, Jan notices that a landmark building has disappeared; the skyline beyond Marylebone Road looks different. Instead of the building, there's a gap through which Jan can see a cluster of barrage balloons like giant ears, straining on their ropes.

He walks with his mother in silence. London is often quiet after a bombing. Petrol is rationed and there is little traffic apart from the double-decker buses. They always catch the six a.m. workers' bus from home — the village of Radnage — to High Wycombe. Jan sits with Elf and looks out the window. If his father, Colin, takes him, they sit upstairs where smoking is allowed; the fumes of Woodbines always make Jan's eyes smart. He follows Elf out of the bus and onto the platform, past the poster of a ship sinking under the words "Walls Have Ears", past the old, red machine on the railway platform that reminds Jan of a tomb standing in mute testimony to those golden days of pre-war Rowntrees Chocolate Bar sixpence, then into the 7:15 train from High Wycombe to Marylebone: "Please shew your ticket".

Then they arrive in London and search for breakfast. Jan always makes a game of seeing which café in the district cooks the best dried [powdered] egg. Lyons Corner House is the preferred eatery with their scrambled egg on toast. Once the cashier is paid, Elf and Jan continue on the journey, passing the Royal Academy of Music and turning down Nottingham Place.

Now after Baker Street's gaps and shards of glass, this street is untouched — the same dreary row of townhouses, except the metal railings which used to guide you to their black front doors have been removed to be turned into guns. Jan knocks on 34 — the London Cello School.

From Jan in 35 Pieces by Ian Hampton. Copyright © 2018. Published by Porcupine's Quill.

More about Ian Hampton


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