Classical oboist and debut author Marcia Butler recalls her earliest memory of music at just four years old. At that early age, she first experienced the life-altering impact of music, a feeling she could only describe as a sublime, “squishy giddiness” felt deep within her core as she listened to her mother’s opera LPs. Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde resounded through their suburban Massachusetts home, while her mother’s vacuum hummed along during weekend housework, and Butler was transported to a new world.
Now, in her haunting, brutally honest, and beautiful memoir, THE SKIN ABOVE MY KNEE (Little, Brown; February 21, 2017 ISBN: 978-0-316-39228-0; $27.00 hardcover), Marcia Butler shares just how a young woman becomes a brilliant musician and a true artist. Growing up in an emotionally desolate home with an abusive father and a distant mother she longed to connect with, Butler was magnetically drawn to the oboe—an interest that marked her as unique among her fellow band students. She devoted herself to the discipline and rigor of learning the oboe and practiced obsessively. She quickly became a young prodigy, earning a full scholarship to music conservatory in New York City, and dove headfirst into the hyper-competitive classical music world.
Butler paints a vivid portrait of the sacrifices and joys of a life in music. She chronicles her troubling childhood and her desperate and frugal years in music conservatory, in which her staple meal of the day consisted solely of a head of iceberg lettuce—and then recounts the new challenges that arose as she became an in-demand freelance musician, who performed and recorded with such musical luminaries as pianist Andre Watts, soprano Dawn Upshaw, and jazz pianist/composer Keith Jarrett. She also performed with prestigious orchestras, as a soloist and chamber musician, at Carnegie Hall and on Broadway. Along the way, she succumbed to dangerous, abusive men, drugs, and a pattern of self-destructive behavior. She also grappled with illness and estrangement from her parents and her sister. But despite her turbulent life, Butler asked, in her darkest moments: could music truly save me?
THE SKIN ABOVE MY KNEE exquisitely depicts just how far beauty and art can take us. With fascinating insight into both the intense devotion and laser-like precision necessary for a career in professional music and the grit and glamour of chasing dreams in 1970s and 80s NYC, Butler’s searing memoir is ultimately the story of a true survivor.
About the Author
MARCIA BUTLER was a professional oboist for 25 years, until her retirement from music in 2008. During her musical career, she performed as a principal oboist and soloist on the most renowned New York and international stages, and with many high-profile musicians and orchestras. She lives in New York City, where she is working on her next literary non-fiction book and her first novel. Visit her at www.marciabutlerauthor.com.