Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
In college, I grew antsy during my husband’s orchestral performances. I watched the conductor perform, but preferred those mediums in which my eyes found a place to rest. With a substandard back and longer than usual legs, I found most theater chairs, even during performances of great showmen like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy left me shifting in my seat. Watching Itzhak Perlman seemed a treat for my husband, and consistent with my ideals of self-education. When someone or something is considered masterful and legendary, this is usually a reason worth exploring. So we went.
I did not know about Perlman other than, I admit, hearing his name and seeing him in the film “Music of the Heart” when my parents got the Starz channel during my adolescence. My husband said our son’s doctor looked like Perlman.
The lights lowered, and onto the stage, a 73-year-old man wearing all black, seated on an Amigo scooter, rolled briskly out. The program stated he had polio as a child. Holding his violin, he lifted each foot to the ground, nodded at his accompanist, and began to play.
The first piece might have been fifteen minutes long. Throughout the multiple movements, we were spellbound, transfixed by a purity of sound I had never before encountered, especially with the violin, which in most hands I witnessed seems to scratch a little.
He played, then drove off stage. The crowd chatted amongst themselves, our amazement growing. Upon his returned, Perlman said not a word but went straight to his work.
An hour passed. It felt brief.
After the intermission, he joked with the audience. Perlman’s humor and warmth were attested to in the program. We saw it delivered.
The silence of the Rogers theater, as this seated man played, drew us into a world of beauty. Even now, I can still recall it and place myself back in that state. In those moments, this virtuoso took us into the great capability of music and violin. It was not a matter of what man can do to nature, but what can be discovered in nature when we approach the material with reverence and humility.
We want to manipulate and distort, create something for mass market appeal. Here this box of wood and string, with a band of horsehair, transforms us.
In my life, I feel the same with words. I cringe at the play, manipulating this and that word to serve the entrepreneur (Bevmo!) or spelling (Toys r Us).
It is with language that we translate and communicate our thoughts. With the best word you can communicate exactly what shade of blue you saw, how the chair felt, the type of sorrow you experience.
We cannot discover it if we do not see it as a thing worthy of our respect. Language does not serve us, but rather we have a responsibility to transmit the traditions of beauty in language to future generations.
Some individuals like to pick a word of the year or a theme. For me, this is the year of the poem, and I am reading Love Poems by Elizabeth and Robert Browning. She was experimental in her style, but not as we might see in a postmodern art scene. The poems rhyme, and how they rhyme!
“I sit beside the gravestone thus/and wish the name was carved for us”
I took the same fascination with Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical, “Hamilton.”
“Congress writes, ‘George, attack the British forces./I shoot back, we have resorted to eating our horses.”
Rather than altering the words to fit the purpose, the debt we owe is to discover the potential with language as it is before we begin manipulating it. That might mean, reading old things, watching old plays, but it also means discovering the incredible new creations of our day (like “Hamilton”).
Perlman played Bach and he played John Williams. Before we were ready, the recital ended and Perlman exited stage right. We may probably never see him again in person. I treasure it as the greatest musical experience I have ever had: a violin and a piano, not out to change the world, but celebrate its possibilities.