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Jan in 35 Pieces by Ian Hampton  

In his memoir, Jan in 35 Pieces, acclaimed cellist Ian Hampton recounts his years of music and camaraderie, ably capturing his life-long dedication to the history and culture of classical musical performance.

With charm, humour and a generous smattering of musical history, cellist Ian Hampton takes readers into the cello section of the London Symphony Orchestra, performing The Rite of Spring under the baton of Pierre Monteux; into a ubiquitous Bombardier snow-machine tracking across the Arctic, late for a concert with members of the CBC Radio Orchestra; to a basement party where Ian plays Schubert with Stradivarius-wielding cellist Jacqueline du Pré; and on to the stage at Wigmore Hall in London, premiering the works of innovative Canadian composers with the Purcell String Quartet. Structured as if it were a concert, Jan in 35 Pieces revolves around thirty-five compositions that have influenced the course of Ian’s long career. Jan in 35 Pieces is more than a memoir—it is an extravaganza of music history in which Hampton offers smart, playful glimpses into the world of a professional musician.


2018—RBC Taylor Prize,


2019—ForeWord Indies Book Award,


2019—BC Book Prizes - Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize,

Review text

This creatively structured, memorable memoir includes a mix of humorous anecdotes and classical music trivia.

An accomplished cellist, Ian Hampton has played with the London Symphony Orchestra and numerous prominent string quartets. He is known for his versatility when it comes to playing pieces spanning centuries. As Jan in 35 Pieces: A Memoir in Music proves, he’s also quite a storyteller. The book mixes humorous anecdotes and classical music trivia with the chronology of Hampton’s life. It is a creatively structured and memorable work.

Hampton writes his memoir in the third person, referring to himself by his nickname, Jan, which allows him to take a more novelistic approach. That choice makes the book more enjoyable, as does its unusual structure. As the title suggests, Hampton has divided his life into thirty—five chapters, each centered around a different piece of music. Each of these chapters tells an anecdote related to the piece before transitioning to a chronological portion of Hampton’s biography.

For example, for Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the chapter begins with an adult Jan discussing the piece with one of his students, flashes back to 1946, when he first heard it, and then considers his later experience recording it with the London Symphony Orchestra; it recalls both instances while mixing in the story of the piece’s controversial 1913 premiere and an explanation of why it’s challenging to play. Works like Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and even the Beatles’ ‘Ticket to Ride’ receive similar treatment, with Hampton’s story melding to the music that played such a big part in it.

This approach lets Hampton augment what could have been a straightforward biography with plenty of funny stories about his career, bits of dialogue between fellow string players that capture the camaraderie of musicians who have played together for years, and little snapshots of his colleagues’ biographies. Jan in 35 Pieces is a consistently interesting memoir that also serves as a well—written love letter to classical music and the experience of playing it.

—Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Reviews

Review quote

Jan in 35 Pieces is a delightful, light-hearted and fond romp through a life that transcends continents, war, hardship, fun, friendship, love, and above all, music.’

—Sean Bickerton, Director of Canadian Music Centre BC, Canadian Music Centre BC Blog

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‘Cellist Ian Hampton has created a lyrical reflection on the world of music and classical composers and musicians in the seven decades since World War II. Beautifully written, the book is structured around thirty-five pieces of memorable music. In vivid strokes, Hampton introduces us to the great conductors, performers and composers he encountered as a musician in England, California and finally, the west coast of Canada. Along the way, he introduces us to some of the finest music the world has produced. By turns reflective and humorous, this beautifully paced book chronicles the trials and triumphs of a life devoted to music and defined by the people he worked with and loved.’

—RBC Taylor Prize citation

Review quote

‘Hampton says he never kept journals and so wrote his book from memory, yet his long­ago observations remain sharp. In wartime England, the young Jan’s landlady is ‘‘a diminutive octogenarian with a face like a well­stored crab­apple,’’ who cuts her tiny lawn with a pair of scissors. His ears are observant, too. The trains that pass present­day Jan’s house each morning across the Burrard Inlet are distinguishable to his musician’s ears as ‘‘‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ one, then the ‘Britten’ one, and then the ‘Glenn Miller’ one.’’ Later, a clock ‘‘chimes the quarter hour in minor sixths.’’


‘As an evocation of a lifestyle it is a delightful education for all readers, and as an educational manual, it is essential reading for anyone with aspirations of a career in music.’

—Becky Toyne, The Globe and Mail

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‘This is one of the most interesting memoirs I’ve read in quite some time.... Frequently we are treated to Hampton’s piquant, insightful comments about various composers. For example, writing about Beethoven, he says, "Beethoven pricks out vanity, pokes at complacency, takes the scruffs of our necks and drags us to places we don’t recognize." At times, there is a poignancy to his storytelling that moved me to tears. Writing about his experiences as a very young cellist during the years following WWII, he offers the following vignette, "...he packs up his cello and takes the Undergound to Piccadilly and Lyons Corner House where he is subbing for musicians taking summer holidays. With Schelomo’s sorrowful melody still in his ears, he sits down next to the leader of the band and his gaze falls on the numbers tattooed on her forearm. Lily Mathé is a Hungarian woman who played violin in the camp orchestra, serenading the prisoners filing to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Playing, she had watched her parents file past. ‘They never looked up’, she said." ’

—Howard Dyck, The Music Times

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‘The book is a gem crammed with humour, history, humanity, and unexpected insights, not the least of which is a validation of the status of the West Coast in world music....’

—Phyllis Reeve, The Ormsby Review

Excerpt from book

From "One: Arlequin"


Down London’s Baker Street, Jan and his mother, Elf, pick their way around shards of glass and pieces of masonry on their way to Jan’s cello lesson. As they pass Madame Tussaud’s, Jan notices that a landmark building has disappeared; the skyline beyond Marylebone Road looks different. Instead of the building, there’s a gap through which Jan can see a cluster of barrage balloons like giant ears, straining on their ropes.

He walks with his mother in silence. London is often quiet after a bombing. Petrol is rationed and there is little traffic apart from the double-decker buses. They always catch the six a.m. workers’ bus from home—the village of Radnage—to High Wycombe. Jan sits with Elf and looks out the window. If his father, Colin, takes him, they sit upstairs where smoking is allowed; the fumes of Woodbines always make Jan’s eyes smart. He follows Elf out of the bus and onto the platform, past the poster of a ship sinking under the words "Walls Have Ears", past the old, red machine on the railway platform that reminds Jan of a tomb standing in mute testimony to those golden days of pre-war Rowntrees Chocolate Bar sixpence, then into the 7:15 train from High Wycombe to Marylebone: "Please shew your ticket".

Then they arrive in London and search for breakfast. Jan always makes a game of seeing which café in the district cooks the best dried [powdered] egg. Lyons Corner House is the preferred eatery with their scrambled egg on toast. Once the cashier is paid, Elf and Jan continue on the journey, passing the Royal Academy of Music and turning down Nottingham Place.

Now after Baker Street’s gaps and shards of glass, this street is untouched—the same dreary row of townhouses, except the metal railings which used to guide you to their black front doors have been removed to be turned into guns. Jan knocks on 34—the London Cello School.

Unpublished endorsement

"... the most conceptually stimulating, the most musically informative, the most structurally exceptional, and the most entertaining narrative writing in the autobiography genre that it’s been my good fortune to have cross my aging path in one hell of a long time."

—Dr. Cam Trowsdale, former concertmaster, CBC and VOA orchestras; Professor Emeritus, UBC


Credit: Robert Moody

Born in London, England in 1935, Ian Hampton is an acclaimed cellist, educator and administrator. After stints with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Edinburgh String Quartet, he taught at a number of American institutions, including the University of California at Davis, before moving to Canada to become principal cellist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Among his many accomplishments, Ian is a founding member of the Purcell String Quartet and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, as well as Artistic Director Emeritus of the Langley Community Music School. His accolades include a BC Arts Council Award for his extraordinary contribution as a performer, teacher and administrator. In 2009, he was named a Canadian Music Centre ambassador in recognition of his contribution to Canadian music, and in 2011, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University. He lives near Vancouver.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Composers & Musicians

ISBN-13: 9780889844131

Publication Date: 2018-05-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 280

Price: $24.95