Performance # 18
June 26, 2019
If there’s ever a good reason to cancel a concert, intense heat would certainly be one of them. It was 95 degrees outside and air conditioning in Germany is mostly restricted to office buildings and luxury hotels. Schools were dismissing students early due to record temperatures, but I was still due to visit two schools in Gelsenkirchen.
I had parked, walked across the school playground in the sweltering heat and was escorted by a group of students up five flights of stairs to the music room on the top floor, which seemed like an oven. The teacher, already spent from her previous classes, was eager to turn the time over to me. I passed around the score of the Beethoven Concerto and allowed students to pick a page they would like me to play. They were predictably fascinated by the pages with the densest number of notes. I struggled trying to play in tune with swollen fingers, shifting with sticky/sweaty hands was a hit-or-miss (mostly miss) effort, and the hair on my bow got longer and looser by the minute. I was appalled by what was coming out of my instrument and the thought of having to play the entire concerto at a nursing facility that afternoon when temperatures would reach 100 degrees. Based on how I had just played, I saw every reason for canceling: it would be impossible to deliver a respectable Beethoven Concerto under these conditions, the audience would be uncomfortable, and the pianist and I would be sweating buckets and possibly even faint on stage.
My heat-struck brain began a debate: “I should really cancel, everyone would understand. We can reschedule.”
“But the people would be disappointed.”
“Yes, but these are extremely adverse conditions.”
“Wait, did you say adverse as in, Beethoven in the Face of Adversity?”
“Yes, but I’m not supposed to be suffering; I’m helping others who are suffering.”
“And how exactly are you helping them by not showing up? Will anyone be less hot as a result?”
True. We were all in this heat together. So at 4 pm and 100 degrees, I stood before an open sliding door (hoping for a breeze) and announced to the residents that it would be my intention to play in such a way that everyone forgets the heat. My pianist leaned over and whispered the question most musicians ask: “Why, of all things, did you choose to play the most difficult violin concerto—here, today?” The short answer: because it’s worth it.
A cold hand wash, favorable acoustics, and the intensity of the task at hand allowed us, much to my amazement, to offer a truly satisfying performance. When it was over, a nurse led a woman to me who grasped my arm and said, “I am blind and there’s very little I can still enjoy. Today, you brought me great happiness as I was able to soar and dance in the sounds of your music, which I felt came from your heart. May you be blessed with happiness and especially with health.” I kissed her cheek and felt the power of her blessing.
Another woman came to me and said, “I played the violin for a year and so I understand what it means to play like that. I'm sorry about the others who bothered the performance, but I want you to know that someone was in the audience who really knows and did appreciate it.” Afterwards the nurse told me that in 3 years at the facility, this was the first time that this woman had ever attended an event or spoken to anyone.
I left feeling MUCH better than I had when I arrived. It makes me wonder who is really getting the most benefit from these performances: they or I?