Friday, May 9, 2014


I am sharing a story I read a decade ago that has continued to inspire me, and that is relevant in the fourth post about identity.

by Jack Riemer of the Houston Chronicle, February 10, 2001

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 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.
  People who were there that night thought to themselves: 
"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.

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