"American Band: Music, Dreams and Coming of Age in the Heartland" 


By Kirsten Laine
Gotham Books; $26 www.americanbandbook.com

Auspiciously appearing simultaneously with the final Harry Potter, this is a must-read, sterling study presented as narrative nonfiction, and every bit as compelling and emotion grabbing as is the British-born series. The story weaves in and out of a handful of lives in particular and dozens of others peripherally to showcase the summer and fall experiences of the 2004 Concord Minuteman Band.

Band director Max Jones, whose expectations and standards are high, believes music, and marching band in particular, has the power to transform lives. He has developed a method whereby upper-classmen teach younger students the fundamentals of playing and marching. The winning strategy begins with summer band camp, eases into State Fair and culminates at the ISSMA state finals at the RCA Dome, after which hundreds of music students audition for a chair in one of the four sitting bands and life stops revolving around “the show.”

Laine immersed herself into the on-site research that shapes this book. She had no way of knowing how trauma-filled it would become. An outstanding journalist, Laine let the book become itself. It’s revelatory as a tract on Evangelical Christianity, perfectionism, personal responsibility, trying your hardest and a small town affected by plant closings and influxes of new residents — some recent immigrants. Ultimately, you’ll care as much — maybe more — about Grant Longenbaugh as you do Harry Potter.


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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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