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Not a rebbe of Torah, but Itzhak Perlman is a rebbe of violin. We learn lessons from Itzhak Perlman's violin playing. It's like learning Torah, without Torah. You get to create the moral Torah lesson, even if it's not Torah. Kind of like a sermon.
This is about the famous show where Itzhak Perlman had a string pop on him in the middle of a performance. He should've fired the string guy. He didn't. That's the first lesson I learned from the story. Don't hold your staff accountable, and they will stick around.
People have asked me, 'Was he doing staccato?' 'Was he smacking the thing with the horse hair bow?' 'Was he angry at the conductor, and did he try hit him with the instrument?" All I know is a string popped. That's the story. That's what he's known for. I heard he is good at violin too. But he's known for the string.
Side Note that Adds to the Story: To see Itzhak Perlman walk on stage is a spectacle. He was stricken with polio as a child and walks on stage with leg braces and crutches. Seeing him walk across the stage with calculated steps is a sight. Some people go to his show just to see that. In the lobby, you can hear them, 'Paid two-hundred dollars. What a walk?! Amazing.'
That night, nobody cared about overcoming polio, and becoming one of the greatest violinists the world has seen. There was a broken string. Broken strings are a true sight. When they pop. Wow. That's inspiration.
The string popped. I don't know which string it was. I am guessing it was the E. You say hello to that string and it pops.
He didn't leave the stage and nobody brought him another string. At that point, he should've fired the whole crew. They all saw it, and just stood there.
After a brief moment, he continued playing. He realized nobody was going to help him. They all saw him walking on stage, and yet, nobody did anything. After noticing that nobody was going to help, and it was going to take a good half hour to get off the stage, to fix his violin, he said, 'The hell with it. I'm going to just continue the thing.' He knew it wasn't time for the intermission yet, and if he got off the stage the audience would complain and Kvetch the whole night. So, he went on.
The orchestra did nothing. They just stood there and stared at him. They were all trying to figure out if he would go all the way back off the stage. As one of the viola players said, 'We waited a sonata for him to get to his seat. Is he going to make us wait again?!' Viola players are very snobby. They think they're better, because they have bigger instruments. To quote, 'My violin is bigger, and thus I am better.' As the viola players took bets, Itzhak Perlman kept on playing.
All were amazed. His mother wasn't impressed. She was noted as saying, 'He still has to practice. He still doesn't know how to tune the thing right.'
It was to everyone’s amazement that Itzhak Perlman kept playing that violin, when a concerto cannot be played with only three strings. And all who were at that show were amazed, and wanted their money back.
The fact that Itzhak Perlman didn't know that a concerto needs four strings was very bothersome. One columnist let it be known, 'He's a professional. He should know that a concerto needs four strings.'
As the complaints came in, it turned out that many felt like they got ripped off, not being able to see Itzhak Perlman with a full violin. To quote, 'That was the most amazing show I've ever seen. It will be talked about for generations. Sermons will be given for generations about this inspirational performance. Great to be there. We loved it. We will never see a show this great again. Priceless. We want our money back. We paid for a four string violin performance.'
Back to what happened on the stage.
Itzhak Perlman continued that concert, thinking nobody would ask for money back. He played with more passion than ever. That's what anger can do. Nobody coming out and helping him, he was mad. A bunch of yutzes.
It was a show put on from the soul. He had to recompose the piece in his head, to make it all fit into three strings. Ever tried doing bar chords on a guitar? This was harder. He even had to retune strings in the middle, to make new sounds. The orchestra was trying to figure out what to do, as they had already tuned their instruments. The crowd loves hearing instruments being tuned; that's why I go to the orchestra. I love hearing them tune.
All with three strings, Itzhak Perlman put on a passionate and uplifting performance. Can you imagine if he played with that much passion on four strings. His mother went on, 'He should learn to play a four string violin.'
At the end of the show, to huge cheers, 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.' He should've continued, 'My staff that didn't help. They're all fired.'
And the audience members used that as an excuse to get their money back, pointing out that not everything was at the performance.
And rabbis have been giving sermons ever since.
Lessons of What Followed
People will never help you. No matter how bad you have it. They won't lift a finger. Not one person came to help him with the violin. In the whole theater, not one decent soul. I hope he didn't play that town again.
His mother continued, 'If he would put in that much effort with a four string violin he would be a something.'
Much of the audience said they didn't connect with his message. One woman in the back said, 'I'm not an artist. I work in the medical health field.' Another guy said, 'I play guitar. I don't play violin. I'm not an artist.' Another young lady said, 'I don't know.' She didn't finish college.
After the show, many said he's not an artist. He is a violinist. Since then, in his later years, he has made it a point to prove them wrong and has taken up painting, sculpting and graffiti.
Lesson: The only way people will pay for your art is when you're gone.
Since this inspirational performance, support for polio research has gone down. Support for violins and the needs of the Suzuki method has grown immensely. Much money has been raised for research to make the neck brace more comfortable for violinists. The head of the research center for softer violin neck holders is quoted as saying, 'This. The neck. The way you have to turn it and contort. This is an epidemic.' They went on to explain why violinists are always looking to the left, even at dinner parties.
Rabbis have been using this 'how much music you can still make with what you have left' since. It has especially inspired those Bar Mitzvah kids who mess up the Torah reading and their families, letting their parents know that this is what the Jewish people have left. As the rabbi of my shul said after Yankel read the Torah, 'We have to do the best we can with what we just saw. It won't be easy, but it's what our people have left.'
Quoted more than Moshe telling Paroh to let the Jews out, three sermons a year are based around this story in every congregation. What making music means? Nobody knows. Sermons are more meaningful when they're not understood.
Without the broken string story Itzhak Perlman would be a nothing. Nobody cares about the violining. They especially don't care about overcoming polio. It's the string that popped.
I am changing this story to 'His String That Wasn't,' about a guitar player who ran on stage. That's more meaningful.
***To fact check the story, please see https://www.atime.org/chizuk/with-whats-left/
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