Make Your Music


On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give
a concert. 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. Everyone 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.

Audiences 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 signalled 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, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to
know that. Everyone could see him modulating, changing, and 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. All were all on
their feet, screaming and cheering; doing everything they could to
show how much they 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 must have stayed many minds ever
since they heard it. And who knows? Perhaps that is the definition of
life – not just for artists but also 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.
You can create and make your music.

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