Courage, Conviction and Creativity
June 20, 2005
Seizing Victory from Defeat
Learn how to "hit the ground running" from
someone for whom walking is a challenge.
-- Itzhak Perlman's legacy
|Perlman at the 2001
Academy Awards: greeted by fans and in concert.
Photos by John McCoy.
Perlman at the 2001 Academy Awards- on the
Red Carpet and with violin.
"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 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, and recomposing 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 [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