May 2010

My performance of a lifetime

May 29, 2010 03:39


The following may read like a bad movie script but it is entirely true.

As mentioned elsewhere I am a returning violinist - took it up again 2.5 yrs ago after a 40 year hiatus (with a brief revisit trying to get my son to play ~20 year ago; story in my blog off-site).  About 8 months into this resurgence I made a trip to Europe (I live in Toronto, Canada now) both for business (a prestigious talk invite) and for personal reasons.  The latter was to visit my brother in Kempen Germany and see my mother who is in a nearby home. 
Mom was in her late 80s and aging peacefully, taking a gradual decent into senility.  She was born in Germany and grew up as a Jew during the Nazi regime, escaping as a teenager to England in 1938, a few months before war broke out.  As for many at that time, her career choices were yet another victim of the turmoil: indeed, by all accounts she had been a very talented pianist and might well have had a distinguished musical career.
I had not seen her in 4 years and, I must admit, was apprehensive of meeting her, fearing that I would not know her or she me.  She sat by herself at a table in the dining area near a window. I sat down opposite while she slowly ate a spoonful at a time of yogurt.  I said hello but she did not notice me – she said nothing to me and made no acknowledgement of my existence for over an hour. Later my brother arrived and we sat in company chatting about life in general and my mother’s well being. She sat with us, content it seems, but oblivious, lost in some distant world. My heart sank as I realized that I had lost my mother.
I had brought my violin. My mother had been the driving force when I learned the first time – she would play the piano to my squeaks and she religiously attended my recitals and orchestra events. She relished in her musical offspring hoping, no doubt, that I might choose the path that was denied to her. But that was not to be – other more academic interests grasped my mind and eventually the violin became little more than a memento. But I was anxious to play for her – perhaps somewhere within her mind it would register.  I saw it as my gift for the visit. What to play? No problem – Brahms had always been her favorite, so his lullaby was first. And that’s when the magic happened. Mom opened her eyes with joy, she came alive that moment – she started to tap her hand to the music and then she started talking – she told me how she loved that song and commented on my playing.  Most important she talked, not at me, but to me. For a few precious – truly beyond words – minutes, while the music played she was back. I played everything I could from memory and everything I had with me. Gradually she tired of course and we had to leave, mom back in her quiet place – a place that was no longer distant from me and not scary at all – just one where she lives.
Not surprisingly, the above event has affected me in many ways. Beyond the personal ones – complexities of love, grief and also guilt that I am left to ponder on, there is the pure amazement of the power of music and its implications for the working of the mind. When other connections to ‘reality’ were lost (or ignored) music, specifically of course one’s own child’s playing, could yet gain access and create the need or will to emerge. I am left with an immense feeling of gratitude, a blessing if you will, for the gift of connection through the medium that she and I shared so long ago.

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