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Emily Liz

A blessing

May 1, 2011 at 3:29 AM

My violin has laid in the corner of the room for weeks now. I haven’t picked it up at all, save for the ninety minutes I spend every Thursday night at orchestra rehearsal. But I’ve decided to cut myself some slack because my life is currently spinning out of control.

In the last six weeks alone, I have started seriously contemplating moving from the small town in which I’ve lived all my life to Minneapolis; I decided for sure that I am going to try my very best to become a music writer and musicologist; I saw the Minnesota Orchestra play one of my favorite pieces of all time, Ravel’s La Valse; I spent a thrilling day with a musician and writer I admire very, very much; I made contact with a professional string-player who has the same ridiculously rare health problems I have; my beloved 15-year-old cat was diagnosed with cancer; she died a few days later; I made an inadvertent discovery of a truly devastating secret that I was never meant to uncover; family tensions simmered; unbearably tight financial pressures grew even tighter; and yesterday my other teenage cat was diagnosed with a life-threatening uterine infection. Not to mention all of the horrors happening all around the world. And we’ve had the strangest spring weather, to boot. We’ve emerged from one of the snowiest, most brutal winters we’ve ever had directly into what could easily pass as late autumn. There has been no sunlight or warmth or light or any of the lovely spring things traditionally associated with April: daffodils, maybe, but to be honest, at this point, they’re growing in spite of themselves.

In any case, whatever the reason, whatever the reasons, I’ve got a bad case of emotional whiplash. This morning I was so numb from yesterday's diagnosis that I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. It took me almost half an hour to drag myself out, eat a bagel for breakfast, feed my ailing cat...and stuff my music into my neglected violin case. This noon my little string orchestra had a concert at a local organization called the Community Table, which serves a free meal every day of the year to whoever wants one. This organization does hugely important work. And trust me, you don’t know how important it is unless you’ve been food insecure yourself.

So I got there at eleven, feeling a little disheveled from yesterday's day of trauma, but still excited and resolved to play. I’d been sick for the last rehearsal, and all of the musicians asked how I was feeling. Their love and concern was touching, and the memory of yesterday’s tears began to fade, a little. We started with a G-major scale to warm up, then played our way through a set of relatively simple pieces, with a chunk of the first movement of Brandenburg 3 for good measure. Every once and a while came a round of applause from the diners. We smiled and grinned at them. The organizer came up beaming in the middle of our set and said, “I think you should know that one of our guests just said, I’m so thankful for the angels who are playing here today.” We all blinked quickly a few times and moved onto the next piece as fast as we could. There was a comic interlude, during which we had a group picture taken against one wall. First we blocked the door to the restroom. Then we scooted over. Then we had to scrunch so closely together that we were practically cheek to cheek. We all got a fit of the giggles. Then we had a ten minute break where we had some coffee and shot the breeze and talked about how much we were enjoying ourselves. Then back to the set. The last few pieces had to go at a quicker pace so we’d finish up by one - “'Swing Low, Sweet Chariots' should be taken faster, like the chariots at the royal wedding," our conductor advised. As we were packing up, a gentleman came up and told us, “Thank you so much for the best fifteen minutes of my week. If I had known you were coming, I would have gotten here earlier.” And at that moment I felt a great thankfulness for him, and a great kinship with him, and a great thankfulness for that great it was the best fifteen minutes of my week, too.

This is a cliche, but - I am so blessed. And musicians? We’re even blessed-er. Even if absolutely everything feels as if it's going wrong in our lives - even if we have been pounded into the pavement again and again and again, until we are convinced we can’t take another day of it - even if we’re chronically dizzy from the dull stuffy headaches that come after long bouts of crying late into the night, and even if our eyelashes are stained with the salt of our tears, and even if our hearts and ribs and throats feel as if they are loaded heavy with lead - the fact remains: we are so blessed. We are so powerful. We have a precious, precious talent that we will be able to employ for as long as we want to groom it: we have the ability to bring joy and beauty into other people’s darkened lives...and in turn, into our own. It doesn’t matter if we can’t play the Caprices, if we can’t get into Juilliard, if we haven’t made a world-class orchestra, if we will never play the Sibelius, or the Bruch, or Mozart 3, or more than a handful of Suzuki books. If we can draw a semi-decent tone, and hit some of the notes some of the time...really, honestly, that’s all it takes to brighten and beautify a day and a life. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care about being the best musicians we can be. It’s hugely important to always want to excel (says the woman who hasn’t practiced for weeks; remember, kids, do as I say, not as I do). But we severely underestimate our own capacity to illuminate the world. Today I realized it is in our most trying hours as musicians that we need to remember that the most.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 1, 2011 at 1:47 PM

 Wow, what a roller coaster of emotions! First, I'm so sorry about your kitty - we have a beloved 14 yr old cat, so I can so appreciate the attachment, the jolt of a terrible prognosis, the loss. And to have your second cat fall sick too! (That problem, fortunately, is common and treatable.) Second, how lovely, lovely, that you had such a positive playing experience, following that emotional low. Oh, I could just feel what a blessing, what a joy it was, just by reading what you wrote. Very cool. So happy for both you and your audience - clearly the good vibes were felt by all. What a nourishing experience. The ability to play (and listen to/appreciate) good music truly is one of life's graces.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 1, 2011 at 4:05 PM

Hi, I'm very sorry to to hear all this!  I also sympathise that losing a pet, a true member of the family is always very sad and emotional moment.  Good luck with your projects! I wish you all the best and that you'll be able to see sun more often...

As for seing the sun...It was already a good start with the orchestra!

Musicians, lucky? imho I don't know... for some aspects yes (to have access to a violin, lessons, good recordings, good body or musical head, good musical context etc. definitivly!) , for some other aspects, it's just a product of all that sacrifice, all these things musicians didn't do because they had to... practice... and... practice : )    Considering that some musicians work fairly harder than other for the same results, some enjoy a good life when some others starve so I wouldn't rank all musicians in the very lucky or very fortunate people.  It depends... 

But, to truly communicate with the audience, (at any stage of the musical journey from young kids, amateurs to pros) is always an incredible experience that truely worths to be lived.   (or that truly deserve to have all of our best and truest efforts)

Interesting blog,


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 2, 2011 at 3:36 PM

 Sorry to hear about your cats.  My cat  Zooey died 8 years ago right around this time of year, and I still miss her.  I don't really know you, but from your blogs you are a wonderful writer, another way you can bring joy into the world.  I wish you all the best in following that dream.

From Michael Divino
Posted on May 2, 2011 at 5:00 PM

 This is a beautiful post, Emily. 

From Anindya Sengupta
Posted on May 2, 2011 at 7:28 PM

 The way you write is like a beautiful river flowing. This is one of the best things I've read anywhere in the last few days. 

Warm regards,


From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on May 2, 2011 at 8:57 PM

Boy, if it's not one damned thing, it's three others, isn't it?  It feels so unfair when this many things pile up at once. but that's just what often happens.  I hope the kitty heals, the family settles down, the secret turns out to be liberating now that it's out in the sunshine, and the fellow-traveller with the illness turns out to be a source of comfort and understanding. In the meantime, your orchestra buddies have your back, and your music is making a difference to people who need some light in their lives.  How lovely!  Whatever else you can say about this period in your life, at least it's not boring!

From Kristen Bomberger
Posted on May 3, 2011 at 1:58 PM
Inspiring post! Sorry about your cats. :(
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on May 3, 2011 at 2:20 PM

Consider yourself "virtually hugged"!

From Eloise Garland
Posted on May 3, 2011 at 4:32 PM

 This post is absolutely beautiful, it drew tears to my eyes. Take care. 

From Ana Ottenwalder
Posted on May 3, 2011 at 3:31 PM

My heart travels many miles out to you, im very sorry for your loss and i hope things lighten up a bit for you, that your remaining kitty is spared and  you are given the chance to enjoy more the little things in life, such a moving a complete stranger into telling you that youve made his day, life can be hard, pounding at us with the strenght of Thor`s hammer. 

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.... i hope this week will be far superior for you and yours.

From Dominican Republic

A.D. Ottenwalder


From Andre A
Posted on May 4, 2011 at 8:07 AM

It is difficult to put myself in another person's place and to feel their grieve, but a song that always lifted me and gave me a new perspective on life was listening to Jan Peerce singing Bluebird of Happiness. The song is on You Tube and it may give you the inspiration that it gave me. The darkest hour is just before sunrise.

I love your writing and humanity. 

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