Last night, I had the great pleasure of seeing Itzhak Perlman in concert. Like many of those attending, I entered the concert hall expecting one thing and soon came to understand I was getting something totally different. My expectations might have been blown but the experience, oh the experience. Let’s just say that once I learned to let my expectations go, it turned into one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended.

Bear with me, there is a purpose behind this.


I have enjoyed Perlman’s work for years. So when I saw he was going to be in Dallas this year, I jumped at the chance to go. I went expecting the usual mix of classical and modern pieces you so often get with such concerts. I knew there was a title to the concert, there always is. I didn’t research it because it didn’t matter. I wanted to hear Perlman and I had tickets in hand. Nothing else mattered.

In a lot of ways, I’m thrilled I didn’t research the concert like my friend who went with me did. Why? Because I had the joy of being led on a musical trip, not knowing what would happen next and finding each new “turn” more exciting and enjoyable than the one before it.

You see, Perlman took us to a Jewish “wedding”. It was a night of celebration. Celebration of the joys of life. Celebration of survival. Celebration of music.

It was also his, along with the musicians with him, to share their joy of Jewish (more specifically Hasidic) music.

It didn’t matter that most of us couldn’t understand the lyrics of those songs with vocals. We didn’t need to. We could understand the music. We could understand the joy in the movements of those on stage. We didn’t need any encouragement to clap or tap our toes. We were transported and transformed for a hour and forty minutes of non-stop joy. Even the more serious pieces were still joyous.

You know it is a special evening when a dance line of concert goers suddenly takes shape in the aisles and men and women, children and teens, whites, black and everything in between, old and young get up and dance. Some knew what they were doing and they taught the steps to those who simply were moved to dance. It was an experience no.one present will soon–if ever–forget.

So what does that have to do with writing?

It’s really simple. When a reader picks up a book, he has certain expectations. Those expectations are formed by the cover, by the blurb, by an author’s past works. As an author, we have to be careful not to shatter those expectations too much–or not enough. For example, say your favorite author writes nothing but military science fiction. You’ve become enough of a fan that you buy each book when it comes out. You don’t worry about the blurbs or the covers or anything. As soon as the book is announced, you put it on pre-order.

The book arrives at your house (in hard copy or digital) and you sit down in your favorite chair and open the book up to start reading.

Except, you stop almost immediately and check the cover to make sure you haven’t been given the wrong book. This isn’t a military sf book. It’s a romance or a mystery or something. But not what you were expecting. Now, part of the fault lies with you for not knowing what you were ordering and realizing it was different from what you’ve been reading from this author. But do you keep reading and see if the author can pull you in like he does with the military sf? Or do you return the book and swear never to buy anything from the author again–at least not without carefully reading the blurb?

That is where the burden falls to the author. If they write the book well enough, if their characters are engaging enough and the plot interesting enough, many of those suddenly disappointed readers will continue reading. They might grumble but, eventually, they will be pulled into the book. There will still be some who won’t read because it isn’t “their kind of book”. There’s no way around it. But what sort of a gem might they be missing if that’s the case?

This isn’t to say an author should only write one type of book. It is to say you need to be aware some readers won’t adventure out of the genre with you. This is one of the reasons why traditionally publishers would have their authors use pen names for other books. It is why some Indies still do the same. After all, how many times have you said you’d never read this sort of book or you’ve heard your friends say they wouldn’t read science fiction if there was any romance in it? It doesn’t matter if the romance is part of the plot, even an essential part. If it’s in the book, they aren’t going to read it.

I guess what I’m saying is we each have our own tastes but sometimes, it really is good to step outside the norm to to let go of our expectations. We might be pleasantly surprised if we do.


(featured image via Pixabay)


  1. You got to see Itzhak Perlman?! [seething green envy] Back-when I could get a good Sunday classical radio station, his was the most distinctive ‘voice’ of all instruments. His touch on any music was instantly identifiable, like an author who brings their own style to every work, however disparate… and where you no longer care what genre today’s work is (even knowing it may startle), you just grab the book.

    And it had to be wonderful for the performers, to see the audience so moved and involved as to jump up and live the music by dancing in the aisles. Kinda like writing a book that grows fans who want to be there. 🙂

    1. It was wonderful and uplifting and surprising and moving and so much more. One of the things that struck us, aside from the shear majesty of the music, was how Perlman made sure each of the members of his “band” were given the chance to shine. There was no ego present on the stage. Lots of humor and love and, well, family. That also helped the audience enjoy the night.

      I commented to a friend who wasn’t there that it was such an interesting evening. Not only because of the music and the joy of seeing Perlman in person was seeing so many people of different backgrounds, ages, etc. In the elevator afterwards, conversations were going on in English, Spanish, Yiddish and Russian. The tenor of those conversations were all the same–how wonderful the evening had been and how surprised everyone was that the concert had gone close to an hour and forty five minutes without a break. No one “felt” the time pass.

      It truly was an evening to remember.

        1. Not of last night’s but it looks like there might be some variations of it on Youtube. The main ones look to be from the 1995 PBS special on the original version of what we saw last night.

    2. I saw Itzhak Perlman at Saratoga Springs in the early 1990’s, playing straight classical (e.g. Tchaikovsky virtuoso piece), and enjoyed it.

      Sometimes surprises are good: I jumped at the chance to see the flutist Jean Pierre Rampal at Oyster Bay (also in the early 90’s), but wasn’t too excited about the end of his program – Claude Bolling pieces – but ended up loving them.

      BTW, although there are commercial classical stations left, there are a number of listener-supported stations, including my local one, KDFC, which is excellent (including the fact that their are pointedly non-political, including this year AND 2016), and most are available via the internet. We also have a local listener-supported Jazz station (K-CSM, based at the College of San Mateo) which plays an extremely wide variety of Jazz.

      1. I had the chance to take a clinic with Rampal back in the prehistoric days of my youth. It was one of the standouts in a very mediocre attempt to be a musician.

        1. Did you know he could act? Go look up his appearance on the Muppets.

          My son has an excellent flute teacher (who could probably be in an orchestra if she wanted); she has met many of the “big names” in flute such as Rampal. Her current favorite performer is Emmanuel Pahud.

  2. Something to really watch out for is fooling the reader into thinking a story is SF and then, part way through, making it a fantasy (or vice versa). If the story is going to be a “genre bender” (e.g. with both magic and high tech) that needs to be signaled as close to the start as possible.

    The secondary-world fantasy that turns out to just be Earth in the far future (or even a colony planet elsewhere in the Milky Way) is almost as bad. One wonders why an author would even do this when it has zero impact on the plot, but it happens.

    1. I totally agree. That is why it is important for the author to make sure to cue genre, etc., in the burb, on the cover (through image and font) and in the first chapter of the book.

      On the flip side, when I think of the number of books I wouldn’t have read if I decided I didn’t want one genre bleeding over into another, it makes me glad I was willing to give them a try. There are very few things I draw a hard line on. Everything else, well, I can always put a book down if I don’t like it. But how do I know I won’t like it if I don’t try it? Shrug.

      1. Oh I definitely agree that mixed genre stories can work, but I think they’re properly seen as an advanced topic–something that only a very strong author can pull off. Not for beginners, anyway.

        1. And that is where I will disagree with you. There are very few “pure” genre novels out there today. New writers, especially those under 30, have grown up with mixed genre novels. That is what they are used to seeing and that is what they will be writing. Because they are familiar with the tropes and pacing of those novels, writing a “pure” novel is more difficult for them.

          1. It would be fascinating if someone [not me!] read one of the “classic” sci-fi or romance or police-procedural novels and mapped out the beats, then looked at a major modern sci-fi or romance, et cetera and compared the beats and blurring.

          2. sci-fi superheroes!

            (White Wolf’s Trinity RPG, which i did some work on. There was supposed to be a novel, but it never got published….)

            1. But it is not really new. It is a return to the world where everything was just “weird fiction,” or romance in the old sense of adventure fiction.

              Have you ever read A. Merritt? Go. Look him up on Gutenberg. See how many authors and tv shows and games have stolen from him.

              Define the genre of The Moon Pool. Is it sf? Fantasy? What?

              Basically, there is nothing wrong with strict genres or with fluid ones. (Although you need to be fair play in a true mystery, and that is a rule. Let me know that it is a thriller, and you are okay to play.)

  3. I echo the envy of hearing Itzak Perlman live in concert!! I only had that pleasure once, many years ago, when he gave a solo recital at Grady Gammage auditorium in Tempe, AZ (the one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright). I was totally amazed at the energy flow between the audience and the artist, each feeding the other.

    I was a music major in college (violin), and he was/is my very favorite violinist. I am glad you enjoyed such a wonderful concert!

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