As children we sometimes rode in his vintage BMW. There was often silence in the presence of my reclusive, stoic father, but his car was always filled with classical music, teeming with the lilt of violins played by ghost-like hands on imaginary stages only alive in the mind’s eye.
But tonight I sit in the intimate presence of an expert and his violin. Without wires and speakers and road noise, nor the dynamics of a vast symphony hall, by luck (privilege is also luck) I am inches away from the source. Unmediated.
The result of animal hair vibrating against metal strings over the opening of a lacquered, wooden box, it is also the most complicated of unspoken languages, the full range of human emotions and unarticulated impulses, all coming through a man who has painstakingly practiced his craft for over 50 years. Neurons, muscles, the electricity of infinitesimal choices of movement, invisible wavelengths and the receptive ear. Music. And like the best art, it is much more than that.
It is the ultimate of hubris that I might try to write about this experience. As Marin Marais utters in the culmination of Tous Les Matins du Monde, this violinist’s playing is “A refreshment for those who have run out of words.”
But among my people are silent musicians who had no such openings during war, invasions, immigration, mundane necessity, to sit where I am tonight.
The performer himself has been crippled by polio, and so easily could not be sitting where he is tonight. In the perfection of interpreting for composers hundreds of years dead, there lies the unmistaken inflection of his own living voice, informed by the circumstances that make their mark onto one’s life. Like the unique gesture made by a painter’s hand. His talents are undoubtedly mending the frays of pain, those tears in the fabric of human survival, passed down to him by his own people.
Because I know this is a healing and that it is in the realm of the miraculous. Music, as well as miracles, come to life on the necessity of the present moment. For over two hours, I am tethered to present tenses by unpredictable sounds and melodies, by the sight of his hands dancing impossibly up and down the strings. I am tied there until the end of his last performance, a composition he knows by heart and displays the utmost limit of his skill, of all human ability.
When he finishes I break inside and experience a pronounced loss because it is over, as are all the circumstances that culminated into this one evening — there with my mother weeping at the greatness of it all, our backs to the thousands of other audience members behind us, their wounds closing even if they don’t know it. I am greeted by an acceptance that this will never happen again. Even more, all of this could so easily, more likely even, not have been at all.
As it turns out, the night of this impossible recital happened to fall on my father’s unrealized birthday. If alive, he would have turned 80 years-old. And in his quiet way, he would’ve been healed most of all.
“Music exists to say things that words cannot say. Which is why it is not entirely human.” — Monsieur de Saint Colombe, Tous Les Matins du Monde