oxford University Press (2019)



Can music feel pain? Do songs possess dignity? Do symphonies have rights? Of course not, you might say. Yet think of how we anthropomorphize music, not least when we believe it has been somehow mistreated. A singer butchered or mangled the "Star-Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl. An underrehearsed cover band made a mockery of Led Zeppelin's classics. An orchestra didn't quite do justice to Mozart's Requiem. Such lively language upholds music as a sentient companion susceptible to injury and in need of fierce protection.

And there isn’t anything wrong with the human instinct to safeguard beloved music . . . except, perhaps, when this instinct leads us to hurt or neglect fellow human beings in turn: say, by heaping outsized shame upon those who seem to do music wrong; or by rushing to defend a conductor's beautiful recordings while failing to defend the multiple victims who have accused this maestro of sexual assault. Loving Music Till It Hurts is a capacious exploration of how people's head-over-heels attachments to music can variously align or conflict with agendas of social justice. How do we respond when loving music and loving people appear to clash?

From the Back Cover

This subtle yet powerful book on the complex dynamics of love of music and persons is a crucial part of larger forces in our historical moment: the moral and artistic voices that examine and enact A Love Supreme. And Eva Cassidy smiles!


Harvard University

Witty, passionate, provocative, and humane, Cheng’s fascinating book—with its soaring, singing voice—digs deep to the roots of what love, music, and the chords they strike together can mean in an ethically alert life.


Concert pianist

With rare honesty and unconditional compassion, Will Cheng confronts our deeply held commitment to music as a humanizing force. A bravely vulnerable exploration of both the joys and the dangers of loving music.


Author of Mozart's Grace

Cheng’s book made me take stock of my own love for music and for people. And it isn’t all pretty! By the end, I was reading and crying with pen in hand, drawing up resolutions for new modes of loving, living, and listening.


Author of Dance Floor Democracy

Equally relevant to musicians, scholars, and fans, Loving Music Till It Hurts is a consciousness-raising book with razor-sharp analyses of how people justify and defend their musical opinions. A must-read.


Brown University