Book Notes: Hartland Resident Writes to Aid Pianists

  • Alison Cheroff, author of the music book "Bananas Hardly Say Anything During the Day," plays piano in her home in Hartland, Vt., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. The book mixes music notes with water color paintings Cheroff drew herself. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • During the eight years of writing and illustrating "Bananas Hardly Say Anything During the Day," Alison Cheroff's piano would become a table for her watercolor illustrations. The story of the book follows Grandnana telling the story of her "banancestors." (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alison Cheroff stands in her home in Hartland, Vt., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Cheroff is a concert pianist that has also been teaching for 30 years. While writing her first book, "Bananas Hardly Say Anything During the Day," she would receive critique and ideas from her students. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The book "Bananas Hardly Say Anything During the Day," sits on Alison Cheroff's piano next to her great grandmothers school bell from the 1800s. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2018 10:00:40 PM

Yes, we have some bananas in Alison Cheroff’s illustrated book for beginning pianists and their teachers.

A book for piano students featuring sentient bananas isn’t the kind of thing that appears every day, and it took Cheroff years of work, and a lot of help, to refine her ideas about playing piano and her illustrations of the elongated yellow fruit into Bananas Hardly Say Anything During the Day.

Cheroff will read from and talk about the book at a release party and instructors’ workshop at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

“It was like jazz,” Cheroff said this week. “It was like improvisation. The book is sculpted to … it was painstaking. I tried and retried so many elements.”

The visible elements include three not-quite-ripe bananas on the cover, inviting readers into a 40-page journey blending how-to advice with a Zen-like storyline.

Two mature bananas are “sitting around” with two others, barely blushing green, next to a tiny red piano on the opening page, which calls for the student to start by playing middle A in the F clef.

A lone red banana on page 4 prepares to “hum at midnight.”

On page 7, dangling from a hammock that resembles one belonging to Cheroff’s teenage daughter, a very mature Grandnana begins answering “deep questions” from several green bananas “about their banancestors.”

And the ensuing musical exercises and watercolor illustrations lead readers — and players and instructors — through the origin story of “five banana souls” that “floated in the Oob” for time out of mind before meeting a variety of fruit and wildlife while evolving into seeds that fall “softly to Earth” and conveniently set the stage for a sequel.

Cheroff’s journey of more than 10 years coincided with moves, with her husband and their daughter, around Vermont from Plainfield, Vt., to their current home in Hartland, where they landed almost three years ago. Several of the younger of her 20 weekly students composed and painted books of their own during the process, and eagerly followed the progress of the banana souls as well as offering suggestions both graphic and musical.

Among those students was Isaac, who “at age 5 started telling me what I should and shouldn’t do,” Cheroff recalled. “Isaac was the one who came up with the term ‘banancestors.’ When he was 6 and 7, he kept asking questions and saying, ‘I know what you need.’ ”

In addition to critiquing artwork and new songs, Isaac caught inconsistencies in the narrative, such as an unexplained changing of the banana seed Elspight from green to pink.

“He was my editor-in-chief,” Cheroff concluded.

Cheroff’s village of consultants also included postdoctoral fellows at Dartmouth College, a brain researcher and a nursing home administrator. She also relied on fellow piano instructors such as Elizabeth Borowsky, to whom Cheroff showed a few preview pages. This week, Borowsky, a concert pianist who teaches at her Piano Prodigies studio in Lebanon, is looking forward to seeing the finished book during Cheroff’s workshop on Saturday.

“I was impressed by Alison’s creative take and the beautiful artwork,” Borowsky wrote during an exchange of emails this week. “A fun book of pictures and playful miniatures means that students are getting their daily dose of technical vitamins in the more appealing format of gummy vitamins: They don’t even realize how good it is for them!”

Cheroff said that the book emerged from exhaustive skimming and buying of books for students and instructors throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when she lived, taught and performed in New York City.

“In so many of them, you have too much stuff distracting the eye,” she lamented. “You can’t enjoy and focus on the music.”

As her own book evolved, Cheroff puzzled over how to work in what she’d learned and taught as a practitioner and certified instructor of the late Dorothy Taubman’s “coordinate playing” methods of helping pianists prevent repetitive-motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition to a quick guide to Taubman’s ergonomic method inside the front cover, Cheroff sprinkles small graphics through the text about where and how to align one’s body and arms and fingers.

“The dogma for positioning yourself is that your fingers have to develop strength by doing exercises that pull the muscles and isolate them,” Cheroff said. “This is a glimpse of another way that doesn’t cause injury. … I’ve worked with pianists who couldn’t even open a door anymore. Couldn’t brush their teeth. ”

The bananas in the book show no indications of suffering such Earth-bound issues.

“They’re pretty much all reclining and looking up,” Cheroff said. “I didn’t want a funky banana. There aren’t a lot of eyes and faces. There’s something left to the imagination.”

The Upper Valley Music Center hosts faculty member Alison Cheroff’s book release party and piano-teacher workshop on Tuesday morning starting at 10. While the workshop is free, the music center is requiring teachers to sign up by calling 603-448-1642 or emailing info@uvmusic.org. Upper Valley stores sellingBananas Hardly Say Anything During the Dayinclude Hanover Strings, Dan and Whit’s general store in Norwich, the Upper Valley Food Co-op in White River Junction, Vermont Violins and Country Kids at the Powerhouse Mall in West Lebanon, Unicorn Books in Woodstock and Mary’s Side Street Shoppe in Chelsea.

Book Buzz

Beekeeper, educator and nature writer Bill Mares offers a history of his vocation on Sunday afternoon at 2 at the Bridgewater Historical Society. Admission is free. To learn more, visit bridgewaterhistory.org or call 802-672-3745.

War Stories

The White River Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Vermont Humanities Council are inviting military veterans to two regular gatherings to read and discuss books of prose and poetry about life in the trenches.

The next meetings are scheduled for 5 p.m. on Sept. 5. Vietnam veteran Michael Heaney leads the session for veterans who served in combat theaters, and retired Dartmouth professor Suzanne Brown hosts the book group for women who served in the military.

To learn more about the combat-veterans’ session, call 802-296-6343 or email david.szelowski@va.go. For more information about the women’s readings, call Kate van Arman at 802-295-9363, ext. 5713.

Pottering Around

Court Street Arts in Haverhill is advising aspiring wizards and Muggles alike to sign up early for its Sept. 22 “Hogwarts Homecoming,” a celebration for fans of J.K. Rowling’s series of Harry Potter books.

Activities include games of Quiddich, a scavenger hunt in search of horcruxes, a visit by owls from the Squam Lake Science Center and opportunities for wizards and muggles alike to appear on the cover of The Daily Prophet. For tickets ($10) to the gathering, which runs from 1 to 4 p.m., and for more information, visit courtstreetarts.org.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Correction

Piano teacher Alison Cheroff unveils Bananas Hardly Say Anything During the Day on Tuesday at 10 a.m at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon. An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect date for the presentation.




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