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The Skin Above My Knee

Cover of The Skin Above My Knee

The Skin Above My Knee

A Memoir

One of the Washington Post's "Books We've Loved So Far in 2017"
The unflinching story of a professional oboist who finds order and beauty in music as her personal life threatens to destroy her.

Music was everything for Marcia Butler. Growing up in an emotionally desolate home with an abusive father and a distant mother, she devoted herself to the discipline and rigor of the oboe, and quickly became a young prodigy on the rise in New York City's competitive music scene.
But haunted by troubling childhood memories while balancing the challenges of a busy life as a working musician, Marcia succumbed to dangerous men, drugs and self-destruction. In her darkest moments, she asked the hardest question of all: Could music truly save her life?
A memoir of startling honesty and subtle, profound beauty, The Skin Above My Knee is the story of a woman finding strength in her creative gifts and artistic destiny. Filled with vivid portraits of 1970's New York City, and fascinating insights into the intensity and precision necessary for a career in professional music, this is more than a narrative of a brilliant musician struggling to make it big in the big city. It is the story of a survivor.

One of the Washington Post's "Books We've Loved So Far in 2017"
The unflinching story of a professional oboist who finds order and beauty in music as her personal life threatens to destroy her.

Music was everything for Marcia Butler. Growing up in an emotionally desolate home with an abusive father and a distant mother, she devoted herself to the discipline and rigor of the oboe, and quickly became a young prodigy on the rise in New York City's competitive music scene.
But haunted by troubling childhood memories while balancing the challenges of a busy life as a working musician, Marcia succumbed to dangerous men, drugs and self-destruction. In her darkest moments, she asked the hardest question of all: Could music truly save her life?
A memoir of startling honesty and subtle, profound beauty, The Skin Above My Knee is the story of a woman finding strength in her creative gifts and artistic destiny. Filled with vivid portraits of 1970's New York City, and fascinating insights into the intensity and precision necessary for a career in professional music, this is more than a narrative of a brilliant musician struggling to make it big in the big city. It is the story of a survivor.
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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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 12, 2016
    With unflinching honesty, Butler, a professional oboist for 25 years, recalls her love of music and how it saved her. One of her earliest memories of what would bloom into the lifelong love affair is of lying on the floor at age four and listening to her favorite opera singer, Kirsten Flagstad, in Tristan and Isolde while her mother vacuumed. Even at that young age she “implicitly understood” that music is “marvelously transcendent.” Her protective parental bubble was short-lived, as she realized that her chilly and unaffectionate mother couldn’t show her the love she craved; her father was violent and abusive with her older sister and later molested Butler herself. Her salvation came when she was 12 and the band director asked for a volunteer to take up the oboe. But she had to strike a devil’s bargain, submitting to her father’s demands in order to get rides to lessons. Butler escaped to music school at Mannes, but the lasting effects of her mother’s indifference and her father’s abuse wrought havoc on her personal life, specifically in the men she chose to date and the one whom she briefly married. She learned painful lessons, and shares them courageously along with her hard-earned wisdom about what to hold onto and what to let go. In the end, this is a moving account of how passion and creativity can be powerful weapons against neglect, cruelty, and self-harm.

  • Washington Post A tale of triumph over a childhood rife with abuse, yet blessed with talent. Filled with insight and honesty, [Butler's] memoir flows like a series of gorgeous musical phrases, taking the reader on a journey as uplifting as it is disturbing.... Her courageous memoir is a testament to the power of art to inspire and heal.
  • New York Magazine Marcia Butler's original and lyrically written memoir charts her rise from oboe prodigy to freelance professional on the international classical scene. Transportive portraits of Carnegie Hall concerts share space with memories of childhood trauma and gritty slices from 1970s New York.
  • Meghan Daum, New York Times Book Review For Marcia Butler, the oboe was a protective garment and a ticket to the world, though both applications came at a steep price.... The Skin Above My Knee ultimately succeeds because it leaves readers knowing a thing or two about an esoteric world.
  • Publishers Weekly A moving account of how passion and creativity can be powerful weapons against neglect, cruelty, and self-harm.
  • Tim Page, Pulitzer Prize winning music critic, The Washington Post, author of Parallel Play and Dawn Powell: A Biography Marcia Butler has written a beautiful memoir — meticulously nuanced, daringly honest, and utterly inspiring. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that captures so fully the ability music has to transport, sustain, defend and elevate struggling human beings through difficult times.
  • Marie-Helene Bertino, author of 2 A.M at The Cat's Pajamas Gorgeously written, The Skin Above My Knee takes the reader from the world's most lauded concert venues into the innermost sanctums of musician's lives in New York. Always honest and admirably adverse to self-pity, Marcia Butler's beautiful book cuts its devastating insights with poetic love for the world. My heart broke in several places, and leapt in several others. When I finished reading, I felt as if I understood music on a level usually reserved for world class musicians. Stunning.
  • E.J. Levy, author of Love, In Theory Heartbreaking, page turning, and ultimately redemptive, The Skin Above My Knee is a dazzling memoir about life as an internationally recognized classical musician and about one woman's journey to the only sort of love that lasts-self-acceptance. An insider's look at the world of professional performance and a moving account of one woman's effort to transmute pain into beauty, this book will appeal to anyone who has ever wondered how you get to Carnegie Hall or how to survive family. Reader, she succeeds beautifully.
  • Ann Hood, author of The Book That Matters Most In her debut memoir, The Skin Above My Knee, Marcia Butler shows us how music - listening to it, playing it, losing it, and rediscovering it - can save us. With bravery and honesty, she unflinchingly tells her story. And through it all, music resonates and becomes the soundtrack for us all.
  • Andre Dubus III With clear-eyed courage and spare, lyrical prose, The Skin Above My Knee carries us not only into the mesmerizingly compelling world of a professional oboist, it also takes us into her love-starved childhood, her self-destructive young adulthood, and a descent into a solitary darkness that only her art can save from her; Marcia Butler has composed her own music here, and it is filled with passion and yearning and ultimately the kind of beauty that can save us all. This is a gorgeous book.
  • Tim Tomlinson, author of Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire In The Skin Above My Knee, a classical musician takes a walk on the wild side and almost doesn't make it up the stairs. Butler's remarkable memoir of a New York City freelance musician's life does for classical music what Patti Smith's Just Kids did for proto-punk, and Eileen Myles's Inferno did for Lower East Side poetry.
  • Patrica McCormick, author of the National Book Award finalist Sold Fierce and lyrical, honest and darkly funny, Marcia Butler's memoir is so good, I found myself canceling plans with friends so I could stay home with this ravishing book. Her gift with language is rare. Not only can she describe her descent into a
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