Blog on a G String – Freedom through Discipline for Violin

I have been reading a good book called The Big Questions, by Lou Marinoff, and a passage I ran across yesterday reminded me of some related things I’d read recently. This is going to be a long post, but I think it’s worth it, so bear with me &#151 I’m just going to plop them all out here and let you put them together the same way I did:

“If a violin string is lying on a table loose and detached from any violin, some might suppose it “free” because it is unconstrained. But what, one should ask oneself, is it “free” to do or be? Certainly it cannot vibrate with beautiful music in such a condition of limpness. Yet if you fasten one end of it to the tailpiece of the violin and the other to a peg in the scroll, then tighten it to its allotted pitch, you have rendered it free to play. And you might say that spiritually the string has been liberated by being tied tightly at both ends. For this is one of the great paradoxes of the world to be seen and tested on every side: the principle of emancipation by discipline.”—Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries of Life

“Take, for example, Itzhak Perlman, whom we discussed earlier. Do you think he ever said to himself, ‘What is the least I can do and still become the finest violinist in the world?’
Hearing Itzhak Perlman play the violin is more than a musical experience–it is a shattering eclipse–a symphony of sensory and spiritual delight. Itzhak Perlman does something much more than play the violin brilliantly. How do you suppose he came to be so gifted?

Every morning Itzhak Perlman wakes up at five-fifteen. He showers, has a light breakfast, and begins his morning practice session, which lasts for four and a half hours. He has lunch, reads for a while, exercises, and then begins his afternoon practice session, which lasts for four and a half hours. In the evening, he has dinner and relaxes with his family. This is Itzhak Perlman’s schedule every single day of the year, except for concert days.
On the day of a concert, he wakes up at five-fifteen, showers, has breakfast, and begins his morning practice session, which lasts for four and a half hours. He has lunch, reads for a while, exercises, and takes a nap for ninety minutes. When he wakes, he gets dressed and goes to the concert venue. There they perform a sound check and have a brief rehearsal. Forty-five minutes before the concert, Mr. Perlman is found alone in his dressing room. Two security guards are placed outside the locked door with explicit instructions to let no one in under any circumstances.

What do you think he does?

He prays. Itzhak Perlman prays. How do you think Itzhak Perlman chooses to pray at this time? Do you think he says ‘God, will you please let me play the violin brilliantly tonight?’ This could be, but it is not the type of petition that leaves Itzhak wondering if God will answer his prayer. When Itzhak Perlman says to God, ‘Will you please let me play the violin brilliantly tonight?’ he does not doubt for one single moment that God will answer his prayer.

Why? Because Itzhak Perlman plays the violin brilliantly for nine hours a day, every single day, day in and day out, in an empty room, for nobody but his God. Itzhak Perlman upholds his part of the deal. Passion. Dedication. Belief. So when Itzhak Perlman says, ‘God, will you please let me play the violin brilliantly tonight?’ he knows with absolute certitude that God will answer his prayer.”—Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life
(Used by permission.)

“The ordinarily brilliant violinist Yitzhak Perlman exemplified the extraordinary in an unforgettable recital at New York’s Lincoln Center. At the very beginning of an orchestral work in which he was the featured soloist, he broke a string. Everyone heard it snap, and the orchestra stopped playing. Normally, a musician would replace the string. There would be an understandable delay. In Perlman’s case, such an occurrence would also be more arduous. A victim of childhood polio, he walks slowly and painfully – yet majestically – with leg braces and crutches. He lays down the crutches and removes the braces before he starts playing. Now he would have to put them on again, and make his way offstage and eventually back onstage, in order to effect the replacement.

Instead, he did something unthinkable. He stayed where he was, with the imperfect instrument, and nodded to the conductor to restart the piece. Jack Reimer, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle who was in the audience, later wrote: ‘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, Yitzhak Perlman refused to know that… 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.’

Then Perlman said something profoundly philosophical to the audience, and as unforgettable as his performance: ‘You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.’”—Lou Marinoff, Ph.D., The Big Questions

(With extra-special Asparagus Pee thanks and a big kiss to The Lady Janet for typing this all up this morning so I could cut-and-paste it here. She must really love me!)