Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Task of the Artist

Today I had the opportunity to read this account:

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 unforgettable 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 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 his 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 way of life. Not just for artists, but for all of us.

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.

(Jack Riemer, Houston Chronicle. The 390th Memorial Museum Foundation, Vol VII, No. 1, Spring 2002).

This struck me with certain force in light of the book I lost last month, and the copy of it I found. The copy wasn't the most recent draft; I've got some work ahead of me to get it back to where it was. But I have the pieces. I can take them and test my artistic talent to see what I can create out of what remains.


Karlene said...

It struck me as an analogy for where I am in life right now. I'm getting older. I'm slowing down. A lot. And I don't like it.

But as I read that, I thought, "What kind of music can I make with the time I still have?"

I can do this. I can age gracefully. And I can still contribute a tune or two in this world.

Thank you so much for posting that.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

What a great story. It must have been amazing to be there. Thanks for sharing it.

Queen of Chaos said...

BEAUTIFUL and so uplifting and inspiring. Very cool story!

Thanks for sharing it Tristi. I needed to read that today.

Dan and Wendy said...

That's a very inspirational story. Thanks for sharing.

Kimberly said...

How hard to overcome that kind of loss and piece things back together. I'm not sure I'd be strong enough were I in a similar situation. I think that we are, by nature, defeatist. It's so inspiring and uplifting to see someone overcome that by sheer force of will.

Shirley Bahlmann said...

How inspiring! Wow. Thanks for that.

Framed said...

Amazing story. Thanks so much for posting it. I was inspired to do more with I've got.

Tristi Pinkston said...

That's one thing I think is so awesome about this story -- it will have personal application to each of us, depending on what we're going through in our lives at this moment.

Shellie said...

I loved that, thank you for sharing!

Carroll said...

I got weepy reading this post.

The writer said it perfectly: Digging deep in order to create with what we have--or have left--is our task in crucial moments of life. And when whenever we're willing to do that, inspiration steps in to fill the gap.

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