August 26, 2012 at 5:49 PMWhat is your dream worth? Most of us would probably say that there is no price that we could put on achieving our dreams. But the answer for one 16-year-old girl from North Carolina is easy. Her dream is worth $200. With wavy strawberry-blonde hair, fair skin, freckles, and large hazel eyes, Savannah Brooks is a brilliant, naturally talented young violinist. She also comes from a foster home, abusive parents, and now resides with her aunt whose everyday battle with living expenses was already a struggle before generously taking in a growing teenager. Savannah’s life growing up has been a constant struggle and she doesn’t have a single dollar to her name.
This is who answered my online classified ad to purchase my violin for sale.
After acquiring a new violin for myself from a small overseas workshop at wholesale cost, I was so pleased with its beauty, quality, and sound that I decided to purchase a few more. My plan was to up-fit them, play them for fun to break them in, and then resell them for a nice profit. Of the three I had posted online, two sold rather well and their new owners were very pleased. But the last violin, a very lovely Russian spruce & maple Strad copy, seemed to avoid being bought. Some passed it over for another one of my violins. Other folks disappeared after an email or two. Still other prospective buyers canceled at the last minute when agreeing to meet and try it out. After four months of posting, this online Russian beauty was proving to be elusive.
That is until one day I received the following email:
I'm Savannah. I am 16 years old and have a violin but the neck of it makes my fingers crowded but the seller said its a full size. But is there anyway you can lower the price to maybe $100-$150 I really want a violin of my own to last a while. I love to play them.
While I thought it nice that a young lady was searching for a violin of her own, I thanked her for her interest but politely explained that the price I had set in my ad was as low as I could go without taking a loss and that perhaps her parents could help her with the price I was asking for it. (I mean, yes I wanted to give these violins a good home, but I was also looking to make some money from the sale. I am a dedicated musician and artist, but I’m also an entrepreneur by nature and so my mind is persistently attuned to function in the realm of profit.)
She understood and kindly requested to contact her if I changed my mind. Shortly after, I received an email from her aunt, her now legal guardian, who began to tell me the story of a girl who shouldn’t be:
Hello Andrew, I am Savannah's guardian, her parents can not be parents at this time(or any) Savannah has had a very bad life growing up. I just took her into my home, my heart a few months ago. I have had no help- support from anyone other then a friend of hers from church. I am amazed that this beautiful child has turned out as well as she has. Foster home, back to abusive home life, on & on, and yet she worries about her two younger sisters rather then herself. When she plays the violin "it is" I have no words that can describe the way she looks. The school here has only band. I want her to try out for the Greensboro youth Orchestra on 8/24-8/26, and Sept.7-9th. I am on my own with her, & my son part time. My only income is disability from being a deputy sheriff. I am praying for help to help Savannah. The violin I bought (that I could afford) $85.00 just will not get her in the GSYO. I know this can change her life forever. I could make payments, but really just wanted you to understand I was not looking to take advantage of you. Only help her to see a "real new way of life" I believe everything happens for a reason. I will not lose my faith that somehow I will find her the right person, and we will get her a violin that will fit with her. Thank you! I didn't know, but she did that the one I bought would not work for her. "She was right".
Hmmm…now this was getting a little out of my comfort zone. This hard nut was starting to crack. I understood their situation, but was I willing to part with profit? I asked her, of all the violins that are listed for sale, what is it about mine that has attracted her to it? After a few days the response came:
Hi Andy, this is Savannah, I would like to explain to you why I like and want this violin so much! I have seen no other like it and have played a very similar one when I was in 6th grade. The one I played in 6th grade was one of the best violins I've played. I love violins and really want this one. It is in great condition, and I would take very good care of it. When I play violin, it...it takes me to another world. I fantasize that I am playing in a actual concert for others. I get drowned in playing where I want even hear my aunt talking or calling me. ha-ha(: Playing violin is a dream that I have had and wanted to proceed in doing as a career. I get told by some of my family members that I need to choose a different career or hobby, one that makes money. I don't want only a career that makes money but one to make me happy. To play in a symphony or ensemble would be a dream and goal that I have tried my whole life to achieve. My goals in life are to become a professional violinist and to become a nurse. Two wonderful things that would benefit me and others. I'm just in love with your violin and would appreciate to have it for my own keep. So could you help in helping me fulfill this goal by providing me the violin at a lower price? Please?
Well, that was it for me. I knew right then that this violin was hers and why it seemed to squirm out of every previous sale attempt. It knew. She knew. I didn’t – not until now anyway.
We met in a grocery store parking lot. She showed me the violin she was currently using and I asked her to play it so that I could hear. The pride and appreciation she had towards this violin-shaped object (VSO for those in the know) was so great that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was surprised she could get any decent sound out of it at all. But she did, and it was beautiful. She was also right about her fingers being crowded. The neck was about a half inch too short for a full size violin. For an instrument where even a single millimeter can make a difference in sound, a half inch is like a football field.
I then asked if she was ready to try mine, and she excitedly said yes. With a little timidity at first, she slowly explored the strings and fingerboard and the bow. Then her face lit up and a big smile graced her expression. She jumped over to her case, grabbed her sheet music, and began to play the theme from Titanic with such grace and focus that I could see she was doing what she loved to do. After hearing her play some more I grabbed my violin out of its case and started to play. For the next two hours, as the sun began to make its nightly descent, we played and talked about violins in a grocery store parking lot.
As the late-summer overcast day draped into a typically humid North Carolina night, the time came to talk about the price of the violin. Money – the bane of so many people’s lives. The fine invisible line that often separates us from what we are from what we can be.
I knew I couldn’t set a price. What do you charge a 16-year-old girl that has only a pocketful of dreams to pay with? So this is what I did. I took out my luthier’s business card that I placed in the case along with a black marker. I flipped it over to the blank side and gave the marker to Savannah. Then I asked her to write the price of the violin that she believed she could earn. At first she told me that the violin was priceless to her and she couldn’t possibly put a price on it. But I insisted. I explained to her that every goal needs a target to aim for and that the progression and achievement of that goal would bring her such a feeling of pride and accomplishment, knowing that she earned her dream on her own.
While neither she nor her aunt need any lesson in overcoming, Savannah understood that her dream would come with a price – one that she would choose. After much deliberation and thought, she perked up and said, “I got it!” And in big black writing she wrote $200 on the back of the card.
I told her she made a fine choice and her aunt agreed. The deal was done. I then explained to her that I would never ask for a payment and that this is something she would be on her own honor to do. The length of time it took to achieve this goal did not matter. The important thing was to always keep the goal in front of her and continuously progress towards it.
With that, we packed up her new violin and after giving Savannah a few more parting thoughts of encouragement, she gave me a big hug and tried to thank me as best she could. I could see that she was struggling to find the right words, but there is only so much one can say when your dream has just been handed to you in a little black case in a dusk-filled parking lot.
Before they drove away, I made Savannah promise that she would keep in touch so that I can follow her successes. She agreed and with another round of “Thank you, Andy!” they drove off into the muggy North Carolina night.
I didn’t make a profit on this violin. In fact my luthier even told me that he could probably sell my violin on consignment in his shop for upwards of $800-$900. But an aspiring young violinist - born into a lifestyle that she did not ask for and doesn’t deserve - not only got a new violin of her very own, she also got hope. And that truly is priceless. No, I did not make a profit on this violin…but today I am a rich man.
Take a moment to reflect on your own life. Think about all the things you are grateful for. Ask yourself if you would be where you are today if it wasn’t for the kindness of single person, one act of generosity, one piece of useful advice, one person giving you a lucky break. If the answer is no, which is undoubtedly the case, seize upon the next opportunity to make a difference in another person’s life. You may just make a dream come true.
May this one act of kindness come back to you ten times over.
I will be keeping in touch with Savannah. It is my hope that her story has a happy ending. :)
My other story is one of a few years ago, where I found someone on the clarinet board I'm on who was looking for advice on pieces, but noticing her ISP, I decided to contact her, and to my surprise, she only lived 15 min by transit from me. This student and her mom were on social assistance due to her mom having a disability and a single parent for several years, she even got help from the high school she attended to meet her needs. So I offered her lessons in exchange for helping out with the functioning of the music studio and my performances, and usually gave her up to 2 hours of instruction per week, paying for her materials and exams out of my own pocket as well as preparing her for university music auditions. Well, she got in, with large scholarships, even at her first choice of school, and is earning high 80s and 90s in her university courses, both within her major and her required electives. I'm still in touch with her, and will be referring a couple of students for her who can't afford my full lesson fees.
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