Stories of Kindness from Around the World

Three Strings of Itzhak Perlman

--by Savla, posted Apr 5, 2007
Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an awesome sight.

He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.

By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play.

But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap - it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do. We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage - to either find another violin or else find another string for this one.

But he didn't. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again.

The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. 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 Itzhak Perlman refused to know that.

You could see him modulating, changing, re-composing the piece in his head.  At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before. 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.

He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said - not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone - "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."

What a powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it. And who knows?

Perhaps that is the definition of life - not just for artists but for all of us.

Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings; so he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any that he had ever made before, when he had four strings.

So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music ... at first with all that we have , and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.
31.2K Reads

Readers Comments

David wrote: I didn't see jack riemer's name attributed to this piece as the author
Jackey Wordstooln wrote: I truly wanted to go to a perlman concert. When will be his next one. Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful article.

http://violinfingerchart. Com/
Brenda wrote: Of course it's fabricated. As if they would make itzak perlman strap up his legs again etc. Instead of getting some stage hand to whip one out to him! But, it is the message, and how we can apply such a great message to ourselves, not only to be inspired, but to inspire others! I am with the rest of you who are pleased with this story. Let us never be so cynical that we miss the messages that are written to inspire! Ps. Thank you for revealing the truth though so that i don't share this story as a true event.
Rita wrote: What a wonderfull story. All i can say is: amen! Be blessed.
Mindy wrote: I found an article that says this is an urban legend. I am posting it, but everyone can decide for themselves.

Http://www. Snopes. Com/music/artists/perlman. Asp
Mary Ann wrote: With great respect for disabled artists, i admire (& support) foot & mouth painters. They are inspiring. Against all odds. God is great!
Dr Ravindra Harne wrote: Wow,,i have learned to play violin as a child and till my basic education i used to play it off and on, but after my post graduation it is difficult to find time. I am sure it is tough job , during the concert if something goes like that it is unmanageable, only some master like him can keep the show goes on ,,i salute him absolutely unbelievable. Commendable.
Marion wrote: Lucille, i respectfully disagree. Snopes performs a great service in letting us know the truth about these matters. Making up stories and attaching them to famous persons as a way of lending credibility to an idea is simply not necessary. What resonates in this story is this single line: "you know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left. " that statement is both true and beautiful--not just for artists, but for all of us. Why falsify it by creating a lie about perlman saying it when in fact he did not? That kind of fictionalizing enables people to dismiss the truth of his purported statement as someone's made-up sentiment, because the story itself is made up. So it's damaging in that way. In actuality we are all, in some sense, playing with three strings, and persevering despite that is an act of beauty. That's a truth, and it doesn't need a false story about perlman to give it weight.
Lucille mann wrote: Did i really need to know that this soul-nourishing story is just another myth? We need skopes et al when the myth can do harm, not when it can inspire us all.
Bruce wrote: Great story, but it isn't true. Acording to snopoes

Add A Comment