Music's flame ignites another generation
While 26 million TV viewers were preparing to watch the Grammy awards this year, five young violinists waited nervously in the social hall of a local church for their opportunity to perform before one of the world's leading virtuosi.Skip to next paragraph
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Ranging in age from 10 to 17, they paced back and forth among equally nervous friends and family; glanced into the main sanctuary, at the clock, at their music; retuned to their violins; then paced some more. All were members of an honors class at the local music school and all gifted musicians thrice blessed: with innate talent, supportive parents, and a community-based music program capable of transforming them into disciplined, knowledgeable, and accomplished artists.
A latecomer to the violin, I sat in the audience among parents, teachers, and aspiring young performers hoping to come away with instrumental insights gleaned from a consummate teacher and performer, and to witness the miracle of serious students in the process of acquiring and demonstrating formidable skills.
That children raised in an electronic culture of rap rantings and digital sampling would opt to devote themselves to so antique and unfashionable a pursuit - choosing patient, demanding, and often frustrating study over the more instant gratifications of preprogrammed electronic keyboards and the improvised bangings of garage bands - amazed me.
A parent's fond wish might account for the initial impetus, the lessons begun in near infancy, but to achieve any level of mastery, an inner drive and sympathy were required that neither parents nor teachers could provide. These five performers, I quickly discovered, had made the pursuit of excellence their own.
As the youngest stepped forward and began to play, it was immediately apparent that this was no mere children's recital, no rote repetition of a juvenile show piece diligently memorized for the sake of entertaining and impressing parents and friends. This was a nascent prodigy's first declaration of musical identity, exhibiting a precocious sense of self and a delight in the freedom of expression that proficiency and artistry allow.
She did not merely demonstrate accomplished technique, but the first glimmers of its uses, the assertion of emotion and thought, and the articulation of a soul. Although her arms were still too short for a full-size violin, she converted her diminutive instrument into a conduit of powerful feeling.
If she had been nervous coming into the room, it was not apparent in her playing. She projected an air of confidence and an awareness of the power she possessed to tease genuine music from the ether and charge the spirit of every listener. How often does a child of 10 command such rapt attention? Through the screen of her outward composure emerged the drama of a mature encounter with melody. It was exhilarating to witness.
During my first year of violin study, I foolishly sought to gauge my progress by comparing my efforts to those of the 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds whose parents brought them for lessons in the hope of discovering or nurturing talent.
Week after week, awaiting my session, I listened to the muted music being produced behind the closed door, comparing that child's development to my own, hoping I was keeping pace. But soon I suspected that my progress would be quickly outstripped by even the youngest students.