Go On and Play Your Music
Itzhak Perlman is a world-famous violinist. He is a beloved and admired artist who has inspired and encouraged thousands with his strength and determination: when he was only 4 years old, he contracted Polio, and as a result, walking is very difficult for him. But he didn’t let that get him depressed, he just walks with crutches, and he became one of the finest violinists of our day.
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On Nov. 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 task for him. He had polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, you would never guess the magic that will happen once he picks up his violin.
He walks with such trouble, yet with confidence and high self-esteem, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, puts his crutches on the floor, bends down, picks up his violin, and the magic begins.
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.
However this time, something went wrong. When he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap. What now? Find another violin or another string for this one? The tension got bigger and bigger, but miracles happen at the eleventh hour, and truly a miracle happened: Itzhak waited a moment, closed his eyes, and then signaled the conductor to begin again.
The orchestra began again, and Perlman played with such passion and such power and such purity as never before.
Of course, we all know 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, and re-composing the piece in his head. At one point, it looked as though he were de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them 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. The audience was clapping, screaming “bravo” and cheering.
Itzhak just smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet the audience, and then he said – not boastfully, but in a humble 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 example and statement. 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 with 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 chaotic, fast-paced, wild 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.
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