Making Music with What We Have
November 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage at Avery Fisher Hall. 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 is an unforgettable sight. He sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasp 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 this chin, 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 un-fastens the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play. But on this evening, 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. Some 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 find another violin.” But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and began again playing from where he had left off.
Of course, everyone knows that it’s just impossible to play a serious work with three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. You could see him reworking the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was re-tuning his violin to get new pitch from it.
When he was finished, there was an awesome silence in the hall. And then the people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. People were 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 his brow, raised his bow to quiet the audience, and then said something–not boastfully–but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone. He said, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
Many of us have lost a lot. No doubt about it. The greatest challenge of our lifetime is to cope with staggering losses. But with the help of Almighty God, we will reach down deep and find out how much music we can still make with what we have left.