Saturday, September 11, 2010

On November 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on
stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center
in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert,
you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for
him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has
braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches.
To see him walk across the stage one step at a time,
painfully and slowly, is an awesome sight.
He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair.
Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor,
undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and
extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and
picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the
conductor and proceeds to play.
By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly
while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They
remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his
legs. They wait until he is ready to play.
But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished
the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke.
You could hear it snap-it went off like gunfire across
the room. There was no mistaking what that sound
meant.There was no mistaking what he had to do. We
figured that he would have to get up, put on the
clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way
off stage-to either find another violin or else find
another string for this one.
But he didn't. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his
eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again.
The orchestra began, and he played from where he had
left off. And he played with such passion and such
power and such purity as they had never heard before.
Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a
symphonic work with just three strings. I know that,
and you know that,but that night Itzhak Perlman
refused to know that.
You could see him modulating, changing, re-composing the
piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was
de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that
they had never made before. When he finished, there was
an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose
and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst
of applause from every corner of the auditorium.
We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing
everything we could to show how much we appreciated what
he had done.
He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to
quiet us, and then he said - not boastfully, but in a quiet,
pensive, reverent tone - "You know, sometimes it is the
artist's task to find out how much music you can still make
with what you have left.
What a powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever
since I heard it. And who knows? Perhaps that is the
definition of life - not just for artists but for all of us.
Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music
on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the
middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings;
so he makes music with three strings, and the music he
made that night with just three strings was more beautiful,
more sacred, more memorable, than any that he had ever
made before, when he had four strings.
So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing,
bewildering world in which we live is to make music...
at first with all that we have , and then, when that is no
longer possible, to make music with what we have left.


Jen said...

What a lovely post Megann!A good sentiment to remember..

Heather said...

I love that story, very touching. That quote at the end is so perfect for us D-moms.

Betty Heath said...

That quote will be on my wall in the office here. I can use that as well as anyone. We all have weaknesses that we need to turn into strengths. Thank you for the hope that quote gives me. I can do things even though I can´t speak the language. Lainey is a great example (because of her parents) of not letting a problem overtake your life.

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