The Relationship Between Harmony and Discord {Book Club}

Today we start  The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. Before the book even began, I was struck by the quote in the front:

Music, to create harmony, just investigate discord. Plutarch.

Knowing the basics that a British piano tuner goes to Burma during the 1880s to tune a piano, I wonder what discord he will experience to create harmony. Is the political situation not what he thought it would be? Were the local people different than he thought? Was the nature of his mission to tune a piano, also off of what he thought it would be?

I don’t tend to ponder pre-story quotes, but since this week’s theme is discord, this line gave me pause. Where have I investigated discord in my own life and through that investigation, found harmony?

I have to give props to Daniel Mason as a writer. I admire the ability for different voices or styles to come out of one mind. I also appreciate that each chapter is just that, what feels like a different chapter in Edgar Drake’s life — it feels very 1880s English, doesn’t it? At least the first six chapters do; I’m curious if as the story goes on and it becomes (I’m assuming) more chaotic, if the chapters will still feel like tidy markers in the story.

In brief:

Chapter one—Edgar is summoned to the war office and told about the piano.

Chapter two—Katherine finds out about the trip and the two of them prepare for it.

Chapter three—Edgar’s letter to Katherine from the first leg of the journey.

Chapter four—Still traveling, Edgar hears the story from “the one with one story.”

Chapter five—Edgar reads the report and history that Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll wrote. Edgar felt compelled to write his own “report” on the history of the Grand Piano.

Chapter six—Edgar arrives and finds he will need to wait a few more days before he can leave for Mandalay. He is invited on a tiger hunt.


I have to admit that at times, the story felt slow. But I think this is intentional. I am so used to someone getting on the internet and quickly finding information. Or getting on a plane and within a day or so being in another whole part of the world. But true change? True change comes slowly. This first section brings to mind the saying, “The soul travels on a ship, but we live in a world that travels by plane.”

The pace of Edgar’s journey is giving him time to process all that he needs to.

Here are a few thoughts from this section: 

I found it humorous that the war office was focused on the mission (of course they were!), and Edgar kept coming back to the piano. What was wrong with it? 

“Mr. Drake, we do have much to discuss of this matter. If you haven’t recognized by now, this commission is as much about a man as it is about a piano.” I love this because it points to the truth that almost every situation is about the unseen as the seen.

In chapter two when Katherine told Edgar she had been expecting something different and said, “It is a lovely idea to use music to bring peace.” This line has stayed with me. I’ve wondered how we each use some form of the arts to bring peace, to start conversations, to point to lasting truth? No matter who you are, I believe we all use the arts in some way. Could you share in the comments what are you use? Could be cooking, fashion, jewelry, art, photography, the written word, or music. This list is just off the top of my head. It is not exhaustive!

Later in the same chapter, when Edgar received some music that the Surgeon-Major wanted him to bring and “such taste gave him confidence in the mission.” I can relate! When someone tells me they like this book, but not that one, it does build confidence in me. I’m sure we have all received that incredulous look of “WHAT?! You like that movie?” (or TV show) and are left wondering how they could like it?! What is wrong with them =).

“Everyone at the party was thrilled about the Brand commission and speculated late into the evening about what could be wrong with the piano.” In my notes I wrote, “I can relate to trying to get a sense of a calling.” How many times have you emailed or asked someone in a new location questions trying to get a handle on what, exactly, you will be doing?

In chapter three I loved when he wrote to Katherine, “If I can help the cause of music . . . ” This story is one that we can relate to, being sent on a journey in response to a call, wanting to help a greater cause.

But also not fully understanding what it might cost. In Chapter four, when Edgar hears the story from the-man-with-one-story, I picked up on the foreshadowing that Edgar cannot be the same after his trip and mission. (Thank you to my high school English teachers talking about foreshadowing at a time I thought it was stupid and there was no reason to read into everything. I was listening, even if disagreeing internally.)

So many great lines that cut deep. Here’s one more: “There were other similarities as well, he thought. In many ways our professions are alike, rare in that they transcend class distinction—everyone becomes ill, and concert grands as well as gin-palace uprights get out of tune. Edgar wondered what this meant for the Doctor, for he had learned early that being needed is not the same as being accepted. Although he was a frequent visitor to the upper-class homes where the owners of expensive pianos often engaged him in talk about music, he never felt welcome.”

Being needed is not the same as being accepted.

Let’s end there and continue talking in the comments.


February 6: Chapters 1-6
February 13: Chapters 7-11
February 20: Chapters 12-17
February 27: Chapters 18-24



  1. Bethany February 5, 2018

    Coming from cross-cultural, service-related backgrounds (no matter how diverse) I think we can all relate strongly to being needed, but not accepted. That awkward space smack dab in the crosshairs of, “You’re helping me, so I should be nice to you,” and “I don’t really trust you or know what to say to you.” But it’s not merely a foreign soil phenomenon. I’ve experienced many instances of it within my own culture – both in spiritual and non-spiritual environments. I’ve served with a variety of ministries/causes, half selflessly and half with the ulterior motive of finding a community. Many times I found none. I was inside, but outside. Needed, but not accepted. But honestly, I think dealing with that lifelong phenomenon enabled me to more easily adapt to a different culture. I didn’t need to be accepted by the community at large. It was enough to be needed. As long as I had one friend (although for about 2 years it was just Jesus and me), the lack of acceptance didn’t really bother me.

    I decided a couple days ago that the best way to describe myself as an artist is “visualinguistic.” I write in pictures, bringing a sensory experience through words. At the same time, whenever I hear a story, description, or sermon illustration, often a picture will pop in my head (usually a juxtaposition of symbols, but also frozen moments of strong emotion), and I’ll draw it. Sometimes I will do both, like with this one from a quickly sketched whiteboard sermon illustration:

  2. Bayta Schwarz February 6, 2018

    I’m a little bit behind (still only in chapter 5) but I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the-man-with-one-story. What he says right at the end:”My One Story is over, and I have no more stories to tell, for just as there can be no sound after that song, for me there can be no stories after that one.” I know there were (are?) many moments in re-entry when I felt like that. Now that I was one of those “boring” people, living in a place they have apassport for – how could there possibly be more stories?! Also, I really don’t want to become a one-story-girl, always harking back to the “good old days”!

    1. Amy Young February 8, 2018

      Oh that’s good Bayta. I agree! I do want to remember the stories I have . . . but I don’t always want to re-tell the past, I want to make new stories in the present and anticipate the stories to come :).

      1. M'Lynn February 11, 2018

        Yes, Bayta. I agree. This makes me want to go crack open the my new journal and keep writing. I’ve been so busy getting all the things going this past year that I haven’t stopped to journal as much as I used to. There’s plenty to say if I’d slow down and see the story around me.

  3. Spring February 6, 2018

    I will join Bayta in that I’m behind but I”m behind her(only finished chapter 2). 🙂 I would have to agree with you Amy that the book seemed slow to me. As I read the first and into the second chapter I kept thinking “when is he going to leave?”

    I embraced the second chapter. I really relate to the differing approaches Katherine and Edgar had to him leaving. In the transition of leaving, I need only one focus. I remember our first term, my husband (who had gone before the family) showed us movies of different places we could live. I was so overwhelmed,I couldn’t even look. This seems to be Edgar’s approach. Katherine wants to learn more about what he is walking into. I think she is helping him steady for the trip ahead.

    1. Bayta Schwarz February 7, 2018

      I love how we each notice different things! I hadn’t really thought much about that particular dynamic but it’s s true! Thanks for pointing it out, Spring!

    2. Amy Young February 8, 2018

      Two things . . . first of all 🙂 . . . I’ve changed the reading plan for next week. We will “only” read through chapter 11 because it is the end of “Book 1.”

      Second (and more interesting), funny you mention the different approaches. When I was assigned to Chengdu (a city in China), all I knew what was in the handbook my org sent me and that had been prepared by people from our org at that school. A friend asked me what I knew about Chengdu and as so disgusted when the answer wasn’t much — he stormed out of my apartment and stomped up to the library at KU to do some research. After a couple of hours, he stomped back and told me lots about Chengdu. None of which I remember (or remembered). But I do remember that we had such different approaches 🙂 . . and both work.

  4. Sarah Hilkemann February 7, 2018

    I’ve been enjoying the book so far! Others have commented on the slow start, but it reminded me so much of preparation for life overseas. We long for the adventure to start, but the days and weeks and months ahead of time are so full of God’s tender grace too and we don’t need to rush ahead to the next big thing. Also, I was struck by Katherine in this first section, and thought of friends and family back home. They sacrifice so that we can go, but have to live out the adventure only through what we communicate back to them. It just made me to stop and appreciate them a bit more. 🙂
    There’s all kinds of foreshadowing going on and I’m trying not to figure it all out before we get there. 🙂

    1. Bayta Schwarz February 7, 2018

      Wow – yet another angle I hadn’t thought of! Thanks Sarah! I love the richness of sharing our thoughts and perspectives!

    2. Amy Young February 8, 2018

      Yes! I like Katherine so much — for the way she found out about the trip must have been shocking, but then she got on board so quickly. And you’re right, Sarah, this call isn’t just ours, is it? Thank you for teasing that point out.

    3. Michele February 10, 2018

      I thought the same way about the ‘slow start’, Sarah. I noticed it was a bit slow, but then it felt so real because of the slowness. I also loved the way suddenly the preparations are done and it’s just time- a feeling we know well- (except when the preparations are not done and suddenly it’s time)! 🙂 I am also noticing a lot of foreshadowing, but so much I can’t begin to run ahead and put it together. Like what in the world does the man with one story have to do with anything? I loved that chapter, but even as I read on now into the chapters for next week, I keep going back wondering how that actually fits in.

  5. Rachel February 8, 2018

    I also appreciated the chapter on Katherine and Edgar getting ready for him to leave. And how I can relate to being ready days early and not knowing what to do with myself!

    As for being needed but not accepted — that hit home for me, too.

    I highlighted one sentence in this section. “Edgar liked this religion, where gods enjoyed music and a piano could be used to pray.” I assume Edgar would be some variety of Christian, and I’m kind of sorry for him that he doesn’t consider our God to be like this, too.

    1. Amy Young February 8, 2018

      Rachel, I hadn’t noticed that! Now that you point it out, it makes me sad too because I do think God enjoys prayers that come in many forms — and how lovely is a prayer said in music.

    2. Michele February 10, 2018

      Living in a place where this god is one among the millions worshiped, that line struck me too, Rachel, and made me cringe. I can’t help thinking of the thousands of western tourists who flood my host city each year entranced by what looks so peaceful and sweet in the religion here, not seeing the demands these gods actually make of their devotees, and, much more sadly, as you pointed out, not knowing that our God created and loves music and enjoys piano prayers!

  6. Kiera February 8, 2018

    Just finished this section – I agree it has an older style. The Kirkus review on the back cover of my copy mentions it being like Conrad (I assume Heart of Darkness) and I can see the connection to that style. I am very interested as to where the story is going to go – especially given this bit of foreshadowing from the end of ch. 5, after he has written his history of the Erard piano, “I hope they read the letter, he thought, smiling to himself as he fell asleep. Of course, at the time he couldn’t know just how many times it would be read, inspected, sent to cryptographers, held to lights, even examined under magnifying lenses. For when a man disappears, we cling to anything he left behind.” Sounds ominous.

  7. M'Lynn February 11, 2018

    Amy, I love this: True change comes slowly. This first section brings to mind the saying, “The soul travels on a ship, but we live in a world that travels by plane.”

    I know for myself, changing countries was a slow process. Jetlag was not only a physical battle but an emotional one. My feet were on the ground because we traveled by plane, but they were waiting for my soul to arrive on the ship.

  8. Phyllis February 12, 2018

    I love old-fashioned, slow, beautiful books. This seems to be just my type of story. I found myself looking up and listening to the pieces of music mentioned (perfect soundtrack for this!) and the painting (the blue didn’t look like the Mediterranean to me; I wonder why he picked that one?) and pictures of the temple. Has anyone reading this ever been there to that temple?

    I recently finished reading a popular book that I thought was terrible, because the he author seemed to have done no research and absolutely didn’t give any feel of the setting. I know, because I have lived where it was set. People who aren’t familiar with the place loved the book. So, I find myself wondering as this book moves into Asia: does it feel like Asia to those of you who know?

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