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Instrumental by James Rhodes


by James Rhodes

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James Rhodes is a sexual abuse survivor. He was systematically abused by a gym instructor from the ages of 5 to 10. While adults around him were suspicious, no one intervened at the time. The abuse has led to numerous problems for Rhodes as an adult, both physical and mental. He has had nervous breakdowns requiring extensive hospitalization, and he also suffers physical pain, and has been required to have surgeries due to physical damage inflicted on his body.

Rhodes was also a talented musician on a career path to a successful musical career. However, when he was 18, he abruptly gave up music. This "music--less" period had lasted 10 years when a chance encounter reignited his desire. He began lessons again, began recording, performing on stage, and hosting various musical programs on TV. I had never heard of him, but he is quite famous in the UK.

He sets each chapter of his memoir to a particular piece of music he loves, and recommends listening to the piece while reading that chapter. These may all be heard at


or YouTube or Spotify. I'm listing them here simply for my own recollection:

Bach, Goldberg Variations, Aria--Glenn Gould
Prokofiev, Piano Concerto #2, Finale--Evgeny Kissin
Schubert, Piano Trio #2 in E-Flat, 2nd Movement--Ashkenazy, Zukerman, Harrel
Bach, Busoni Chaconne--James Rhodes
Beethoven, Piano Sonata #32, opus 111, 2nd Movement--Ohlsson
Scriabin, Piano Concerto, Last Movement--Ashkenazy
Ravel, Piano Trio--Ashkenazy, Perlman, Harrel
Shostakovich, Piano Concerto # 2, 2nd Movement--Leonskaya
Bruckner, Symphony #7, 2nd Movement--von Karajan
Liszt, Totentanz--Sergio Tiempo
Brahms, German Requiem, 1st Movement--von Karajan
Mozart, Symphony # 41, 4th Movement--MacKerran
Chopin, Etude in C-major, Op. 10/1--Pollini
Chopin, Fantasie in F-minor, Op.49--Zimmerman
Ravel, Piano Concerto in G, 2nd Movement--Zimmerman
Schumann, Geister Variations--??
Schubert, Sonata # 20, D. 959, 2nd Movement--Lonquich
Beethoven, Piano Concerto # 5, 2nd Movement--Lupu
Rachmaninov, Rhapsody on a Theme by Pagannini--Kocsis
Bach, Goldberg Variations, Aria da Capo

Despite its mostly grim topic, I enjoyed this book, especially the descriptions of the music and the artistic process.

3 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Dec 18, 2017 |
From the age of five to ten concert pianist James Rhodes was repeatedly raped by his gym teacher Mr. Lee. This book has two objectives: to show how he was able to overcome the abuse through the healing power of music and various other means and to educate on classical music and why it is important today and how the classical music industry needs to change or die. For those who seek salacious details of the rapes, you will be sorely disappointed as he does not provide them. It was hard enough living through them at the time. Recalling them is like living through them again and that is not something he wants to do.

The rapes happened at Arnold House a Preparatory School for boys in St. John's Wood in England. James tells of how Mr. Lee singled him out for special attention which made him feel good. Pretty soon he was helping Mr. Lee put away the gym equipment and was his little helper. Then Mr. Lee started with letting him burn matches. This forbidden activity had a twofold purpose. It allowed Mr. Lee to get close to James by allowing him to do something he wanted to do and it provided Mr. Lee with blackmail material for when he wanted to get James to do something James might not want to do. He also bought him chocolate and toys. When it came time to sign up for boxing classes (the school didn't have much of a PE program, just the part-time program that Mr. Lee provided) he signed up. Now, what happened after that is taken from a police report that was filed in 2010 by the Head Teacher who took the boys to the boxing classes and back to school. She complained about what she believed that something going on to the Headmaster, but was told she was overreacting. She also told James's mother about it as well. The reason she didn't go farther was that back then no one suspected that kind of abuse. She suspected that Mr. Lee was frightening him and causing personality changes in him, but she never suspected what was really going on. The reason she filed the police report was that James had become public about his abuse and she didn't want Mr. Lee to hurt any more children.

But just because the abuse ended when his parents sent him to another school when he was ten it didn't mean that he became better. Physically his body was messed up. He had to defecate all the time. Later he would require multiple back surgeries to fix the damage. Mentally he was really messed up as those who have been abused are. He slept with any who wanted to sleep with him or gave blowjobs to the boys or to teachers and other grown men. All of this is perfectly normal behavior for someone who has just survived the kind of abuse he went through. He wasn't even sure of his sexuality for a while. But he had the piano to play and lose himself in. Though he was told he would never be good enough to be a professional.

When he went off to college he fell even more heavily into drugs and would stop playing piano for ten years. He just stayed high constantly until his parents got him out and placed him in a rehab facility where, while he got sober, he still didn't deal with his abuse issues. He spent the next year in France working at a Burger King and having a great time with the ladies and the amazing things you can see and do in France. It was the healthiest year of his life. He then went back to college and tried being normal. He just shoved all of that pain and craziness down and pretended it didn't exist. He made it through college and got a good job and met a nice woman whom he married but didn't tell about his past. But that pain would not stay down forever and it would come out and destroy everything.

He would spend time in various hospitals seeking help and finally found himself a good therapist to see. But music was the guiding force that saved him. When he was seven he heard Bach-Busoni, Chaconne and it transformed his life. It was a place to escape to. Each chapter of this book is set to a piece of music that he has picked out tells the story behind it so you can get the full experience of it like he does and set the mood for the chapter. Be warned there is classical music talk in here, but he makes it so interesting you want to learn more. Overall this book packs a powerful punch and I can't recommend it enough.

Music has infiltrated our lives as much as nature, literature, art, sport, religion, philosophy and television. It is the great unifier, the drug of choice for teenagers around the world. It provides solace, wisdom, hope and warmth and has done so for thousands of years. It is medicine for the soul. There are eighty-eight keys on a piano and within that, an entire universe.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p xi)

If Goethe was right and architecture is frozen music (what a quote!), this piece [Bach-Busoni, Chaconne] is a magical combination of the Taj Mahal, the Louvre and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 31)

There is nothing as terrifying to a mentally ill person as a feeling. Good or bad doesn’t matter. It still has the potential to turn our minds upside down and back to front without offering the vaguest clue how to deal with it reasonably or rationally.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 44)

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day,to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight; and never stop fighting.
-ee cummings

If there were an ultra-neurotic Jewish mother, on coke, who was beyond evil and got wet off malevolence, that is that part of my mind.
--James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 49)

Musicians were meant to be all shades of fucked up, none more so than classical ones, who don’t even have the luxury of ripped jeans, groupies and cocaine—they have to express their issues with stupid jumpers, non-existent social skills and deranged facial expressions, and I knew I fit the bill.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 63)

How I wish psych wards had a loyalty card programme, with cards stamped for each day spent inside rather than each latte bought, where every tenth one resulted in a free day.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 69)

Could anyone be miserable in Paris? I’ve yet to see a fat Parisienne, the city has the heart-stoppingly beautifully architecture that can only come from surrendering to enemy forces in the early days of war, art, coffee, crepes, husky accents, a natural disdain for work, and smoking everywhere.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 70)

A creative artist works on his next composition because he was not satisfied with his previous one.
-Dmitri Shostakovich

There are many things I wish for. Cricket matches to not be able to last five days and still end in a draw. A massive increase in awareness and funding for mental health units and rape crisis centres. A six pack. KFC to deliver.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 98)

But feelings sometimes feel like Auschwitz, even if in reality they’re closer to Butlins. Real compassion comes from understanding that what feels true for someone is, to all intents and purposes, true. Doesn’t matter a bit if it is patently untrue to you and everyone else. And this terror felt true to me. It was my reality, however skewed that may seem.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 102)

Stupid love. Makes us all act like dickheads.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 168)

The people behind classical music seem to have lost sight of the fact that the composers themselves were, in effect, the original rock starts. Today the phrase ‘rock star’ brings to mind Heat magazine photoshoots, tattoos…being a judge on Britain’s Got Talent. Back then it meant really bad hair, some form of venereal disease, mental illness and poverty. They were for the large part mental, depraved, genius bastards who would have pissed themselves laughing at the ideas about performance that the classical gatekeepers of today are so rigidly stuck to. They didn’t throw TVs out of hotel windows, they threw themselves out.
-James Rhodes (Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music p 186-7) ( )
  nicolewbrown | Jun 12, 2017 |
Moving, engaging, showing the healing power of music. And the wonder of it. ( )
  elimatta | Jun 9, 2015 |
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'If we fetishise trauma as incommunicable then survivors are trapped - unable to feel truly known . . . You don't honour someone by telling them, "I can never imagine what you've been through." Instead, listen to their story and try to imagine being in it, no matter how hard or uncomfortable that feels.'

- Phil Klay, veteran, US Marine Corps
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Classical music makes me hard.
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James Rhodes' passion for music has been his absolute lifeline. It has been the thread that has held him together through a life that has encompassed pain, conflict and turmoil. Listening to Rachmaninov on a loop as a traumatised teenager or discovering an Adagio by Bach while in a hospital ward - such exquisite miracles of musical genius have helped him survive his demons, and, along with a chance encounter with a stranger, inspired him to become the renowned concert pianist he is today. This is a memoir like no other: unapologetically candid, boldly outspoken and surprisingly funny - James' prose is shot through with an unexpectedly mordant wit, even at the darkest of moments. An impassioned tribute to the therapeutic powers of music, Instrumental also weaves in fascinating facts about how classical music actually works and about the extraordinary lives of some of the great composers. It explains why and how music has the potential to transform all of our lives.… (more)

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