Does playing violin sometimes feels like it’s life and death?
Sometimes, we get caught up by the difficulties in learning, we forgot that being alive and playing violin is such a privilege. In Eric Sun’s case
, it’s a matter of life and death. He was learning Paganini caprices and Bach solos, and performing Mendelssohn Octet during his end of life. His story reminded me why I play violin, and what I should and probably would do in face of physical declining and death.
Thoughts and comments?
That certainly is a very tragic and frightening story. Life is fragile.
Gemma, I couldn't agree more. I think Eric Sun, an amateur violinist, got it right in terms what it is all about. One is truly great not because how much better he can play compared to others, or how famous he becomes in this ever-so competitive violin world. One is great because he can go beyond all the obstacles and noises in pursuit his dream, all the way to one’s end of life.
I heard Eric play the octet in a master class at the seminar this summer. No words.
During the war in Iraq things got very bad and every day you would learn that someone you knew had been killed. I'm talking about civilian deaths both among iraqis and foreigners who were there. Eventually you had the complete feeling that you were in the Death Row and just didn't know the date. Today, tomorrow, next week. Your day was coming.
I just read the article, and I found it moving. I felt for him and especially for his wife. I am so sorry for her loss; he was taken too young.
I agree with Karen's post. Very sad story (and we all as adults getting older have a few of those) but I also find it uncomfortable, not just because of death but also there is a discernable 'hollywooding' and voyeurism.
Voyeurism? I don't get it. I had to check the dictionary to see if I understood the term correctly and still don't get it. I see courage and heroic actions in fighting to live to one's fullest in facing death, but nothing sexual about it.
Lydia has taken up this thread in a separate post at http://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=957 .
J Ray, I actually agree with you about aspiration and in pursuit of excellence. I didn't make myself clear and thank you for giving me a chance to explain what I meant to say. As you well said, "we certainly aspire to play much better." I would add that, while we need to be inspired by the greats and those who are ahead of us, we certainly don't need the fear and self-doubts to compare with others, as the latter is frequently displayed among amateur players and late starters. Compare and compete against ourselves makes a lot more sense and more productive than against others.
No not in the literal sexual sense Yixi :)
As a former oncology nurse, I've seen a lot of cancer patients dying under a different light. Eric Sun is certainly a hero in my mind as he didn't let the illness and death stop him living to the fullest: keep learning, practicing, performing music as if life depending on it. That alone would be enough heroic for me, but he also engaged with friends and family and community, distributed his wealth by endowing scholarship and financial aid for health research and chamber-music, donated his Vuillaume in support of young artists, etc. This is extraordinary in my book.
Perhaps you're right Yixi. Thank you for making me see it your way.
I think all such journalism is voyeuristic in a sense. We are getting a deeply personal glimpse into the life--and approach to death--of another person. I personally was deeply moved and inspired by Eric's journey. What would you choose to do if you knew you had a year left, maybe? I had a chance to play in his group this year. A friend asked me if I'd be interested in playing violin and viola in the octet for the seminar. I demurred for three reasons: I'd been asked by a different group first, and said no (partly because I was invited to play the violin part in the Trout, which is beyond my performance capabilities). It felt tacky to commit to another group. I was also worried about my ability to learn the viola fast enough. But finally, the underlying reason for saying no to either group: my mother has glioblastoma and at the time I wasn't sure if I'd need to be at her side during the week of the seminar. I didn't want to commit and then bail at the last minute.
One can have a healthy drive to be the best violinist they can be at any age. Life is short. Be the "best"; learn all you can, and "marry" your instrument-you never know when you'll be together again.
Wow, Katie! I am speechless. Please give your mother a big hug from me and tell her that when I grow up, I want to be like her.
Thanks Tammuz, for explaining what I meant by "voyeuristic" better than I could. I was moved by the section about his playing Fiddler on the Roof not long before he died. It made me think of this, perhaps the musical's most well-known and beloved song:
I agree with Adalberto, having a healthy drive to be the best one can be is a journey and it is beyond money, fame or any other worldly accomplishment. It's about the meaning of one's own life. I think Eric Sun is a good example of what Viktor Frankl said in his
Lydia, thank you! I can't express any better than you did about difference in temperament and what makes one thrive but not the other. I too found somewhat eerie when reading the article, not only because I shared some of his dreams (like working on these solo repertoires and playing at Stanford SLSQ seminar), but Eric Sun also reminds me of the passing of my late husband in 2014. He was an extremely driven, kind and private person. All he wanted during his last a few months (shortly after the diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) was doing what he always had been doing, which chiefly consisted of his academic works, reading and writing. I gave a lot of thoughts during the past three years or so about him and dying. I've no doubt that being able to choose and doing what he had chosen to do, among other things, was what enabled him to be remarkably at ease with death. Not everyone has such clarity when face death. Eric and my late husband did. That is their good fortune.
Yes, I agree, and you put it well, there's a certain temperament. I lack that temperament and it can be hard to live here in Silicon Valley when you lack it. It's also rather hard to be a violinist, lacking it. That may be why I became a violist ;-)
For the curious, there's (several) YouTube videos. Here's one:
Thank you Lydia. Indeed he was very good. There's another his video (his solo starts at around 3:33)
I am not blaming any individuals for the problem; there are larger forces at work. And I'm not talking just about the housing crisis although that is pretty dire, and as you say, has multiple causes including (especially) the political. There is also the water crisis (aquifers being depleted; the central valley is sinking), the traffic. Many resources are being strained past their limits. Traditional industries and jobs are also being disrupted in this economy. Even if the political obstacles contributing to the housing crisis were removed tomorrow, those factors and disruptions would remain, and the consequences would still fall hardest on the poor and vulnerable.
He didn't donate his violin to Stanford. He established a foundation that will competitively loan his violin to young players, presumably aspiring soloists.
I was talking about the scholarships, primarily, not the instrument.
It's not scholarship but financial aid for applicants of
Yes, it's another Stanford program. I'm sure it's very worthy, and, of course, excellent. It's for people who are already very privileged and accomplished, as is anyone who is applying to and accepted by a competitive program at Stanford. It's not for anyone who has been left behind by the Bay Area juggernaut.
The whole point of articles like that is to elicit strong reactions. Strong reactions often differ. We should embrace the range of our responses as a natural outcome of intellectual diversity.
Paul, Eric Sun also endowed a scholarship at Stanford for women in STEM fields. But that's beside the point. You use the word "surprising". I am surprised, not by Eric but by what I've read here. The whole point of sharing for my sharing this story was the hope that people would be inspired by the courage and positive contributions Eric and his wife have made to the world during the most difficult moments of their life. I've been a widow and I know a bit about those moments.
My answer to the original question is NO!
Nobody is trying to turn amateur violin playing into some kind of noble enterprise. Running is ordinary activity but run for cure is something else. It's not playing violin per se, it's how we contribute to others via playing violin that can make difference.
To be fair, violin playing IS a hobby-at least for many. But for some, it's way more than that-"life" itself-and it should be respected as such, even if incomprehensible/irrational to those who would disagree. Call them crazy/strange/selfish/whatever-nothing will change the fact that the violin is not merely a hobby for them, even if they were amateurs.
Not only is he spending his last days doing what he loves, but he's actually managed to be selfless enough to make it about bringing joy to others. It's nothing to do with showing off or trying to appear noble.
David Zhang said, "Frankly, I don't get this whole business of talking about someone's tragedy as a way to turn amateur violin playing into some kind of noble enterprise. It is very strange. As amateurs, we play for ourselves! It is inherently a self-centered, if not selfish, activity."
People tend to make bequests that relate to things that were meaningful to them in life. Leaving a scholarship fund for a beloved adult chamber-music program -- SLSQ's summer session attracts a national audience of players -- is very fitting for someone like Eric Sun. People leave bequests to pet-related foundations, and professional orchestras, and art galleries, and many other "elite" charitable pursuits.
I don't worry about death, but I do worry about my bucket list in terms of age- what I can reasonable accomplish before my body starts to fail.
Yixi, when gauging peoples' responses here, keep in mind that most people are very, very afraid of death. By attaching something familiar (violin) to a story involving death, it makes the inevitability of our eventual demise all too real. So some of the responses you see here are simply fear-based.
Yixi I am not second guessing or criticizing Eric Sun. What he chose to do with his remaining time and his money are both just fine. You obviously have strong feelings about this, which I totally respect, but I am apparently just seeing things very differently. I think it's probably best for me to just leave it there.
Most people do not spend their lives engaged in noble enterprises, much less the last days of their lives.
Erik, very good advice as usual. Thank you!
Yes! The violin can bring people together. There are well known individuals and organizations who have brought the violin as a ray of hope to children whose childhood has been disrupted if not destroyed by conflicts and poverty.
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This is a very moving story, and one can clearly see the diversity of emotions and attitudes it invokes for us. As a physician, I have seen many “styles” of those unfortunate enough to be in Mr. Sun’s position, but until recently I never thought I’d get a glimpse of this myself.
Ghandi's words ring true. When at age 90 my dad had only a few months to live, he used that time to learn and memorize a Rachmaninoff piano sonata.
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