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Variations On an Article: Jeremy Denk Gets a Book Contract

Jeremy Denk
The New York Times

By Allan Kozinn

Soon after The New Yorker published the pianist Jeremy Denk’s “Every Good Boy Does Fine” in its April 8 issue, Mr. Denk took to his blog Think Denk, and offered a bit of editorial second-guessing about his illuminating memoir of his studies.

“In the essay, many sins of omission,” he wrote, noting that in the interest of focusing on the particular influence of the Hungarian pianist Gyorgy Sebok, and what he called “this moment when Old Europe landed on top of me,” he had neglected many teachers who were also important to him, including Joseph Schwartz at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Herbert Stessin at the Juilliard School.

Now Mr. Denk, who at 43 is regarded as one of his generation’s most eloquent and thoughtful interpreters, will have a chance to offer a fuller picture of his student years, as well as some of his broader reflections on the piano repertory. Random House has signed him to transform the New Yorker piece into a book, also called “Every Good Boy Does Fine” – a phrase that anyone who has taken piano lessons will recognize as a mnemonic children use to memorize the notes on the musical staff when it bears a treble clef. (One popular variation, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor,” was used by the Moody Blues as an album title, and by Tom Stoppard and André Previn as the title of a musical.)

“I hope it doesn’t sound silly to say that for me there is a connection between the task of piano playing, trying to find the elusive combination of nuances that bring the phrase alive, and the search for the ‘perfect’ combination of words to express something,” Mr. Denk wrote in an e-mail. “I guess the common thread is communication and hopefully that “shiver of delight” when something is expressed in an imaginative, unexpected way.”

Andy Ward, Mr. Denk’s editor at Random House, said that Mr. Denk had two years to write the book, which is due to be published in 2015 or 2016.

“The trick is to find time to write this book over the next year or two, while practicing and performing,” Mr. Denk said. He added that the book would probably include material that he had explored in his blog, but that “the idea at the moment is to attempt something a bit bigger, more continuous – a weaving of wry autobiography and accessible, even bizarre, musical analysis—which I have never done, and we’ll see if I can do! (I’m excited to try.)”