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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Translators

We were all in the attic, as usual. The three of us had been doing this for some time, now. In our own way, we were playing with our father's guns. It was there, though, that I learned what we could be. We all had our parts to play. The changes on Luke's face were like the changes of seasons. Ryan stood in front of him, describing the rhythm he envisioned. As Ryan beatboxed, Luke's face would slowly turn into a grin of disbelief, as if he wanted to say "you want me to play that, on drums?" Of course, though, he always found a way.

My memory of a great performance did not happen in a concert hall, in front of thousands. There were no flowers thrown, no standing ovations, no million dollar pay days. It was in a small classroom, a very small classroom. There was a dry erase board across the front wall, and there were desks, the space saver kind of desks, with the writing area barely the size of a sheet of paper. Fifteen violin and viola students sat in these desks, facing the white board, facing a lone inexpensive upright piano that was currently not being played. Fahad, however, was playing. His violin was beautiful, with dark varnish and tight grain. He is never satisfied with his instrument. That instrument is already long gone from his possession. At this moment, though, it was serving his purpose. Fahad played a Partita by J.S. Bach, staying fluid on one string and using a wide arm vibrato. We sat quietly, wide awake and wide eyed. When he finished, there wasn't even any need to applaud. Our professor's comment on his performance was almost as gorgeous as the previous moment. "Fahad, that was sensitive and mature playing." This comment, to me, became a grail.

I found out recently that not everyone in the world was a musician. Before I was a music major, I stood out; Ryan, Luke and I stood out. People told me that I loved music just a little more than everyone else, and I believed them. I had done it my whole life. It was only natural to go be a music major. I knew the talk, and I knew the life and so did all the other music majors. I was better at theory than most, I was slightly older than most, and I had more performing experience than most, but the fact remains that I was not the best violist there. I tried, but my constant rank was "most improved." I learned to hate that title. I graduated, cum laud, even, and moved away to find a "day job" and support my family. I found a part time job teaching violin, where I surprised myself when I excelled. I had to rediscover who and where I was. At school, we were all stars, and our luminance was so bright that individuals could not be spotted in the night sky. I have room to shine, now. I play as often as I can, and have earned my own coveted compliment. "When you play, I can hear the words."

1 comment:

Mike said...

Nice, David! I think I missed this when it was written (i.e., just seeing it now, in September). As you noted, not everyone is a musician. I have excellent hearing range (I can hear CRT tv's high-pitched whine, which drives me batty, and I can sometimes hear the noise coming out of those audio rodent-repellent devices, such as the ones the city just put up near one of my train stops), and solid hearing discernment (I can tell pretty clearly when one tone is different from another). But I don't feel anything from music. Some music I like (and that ranges from hard rock like Tool, to some dance music from Rhihanna, to some rap, to some classical), but that's the extent of my "musical experience." Music effectively has two functions for me: (1) adrenaline stimulant, or (2) relaxation. So it seems that music only seems to tap into my adrenal reserves as something to pump me up or calm me down. Beyond that, flats don't sound "sad," sharps don't sound "happy."

I'm always impressed by the people who can listen to music and feel something. Or even those who listen to the words (I'm famous for having songs I love, but I have no idea what they're saying; I don't really care, it's all about whether it pumps me up or relaxes me). One funny story is that when my wife and I were planning our wedding, I suggested a song to play as a potential first-dance song: Kelly Clarkson's Because of You. I really like the sound of that song, and its "ramp ups" are adrenaline-pleasing. But I had no idea what the song was about because I didn't really care; so my wife just laughed me out of the room for suggesting that song.

Keep playing and teaching!