Not everyone gets the chance

"You can play...but I can't." I placed my violin by my side and watched as the Hospice patient struggled to position himself upright in his bed. I wasn't sure why he said that but I gave him my full attention. His finger shook as he pointed to me and repeated: "You can play....but I can't." 

I thought about that moment as I watched my dear friend Emmanuel walk onto the stage to premiere “Yoshiyahu” for violin and orchestra with the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra. I thought to myself, how many people get to premiere a Violin Concerto? How many people get to play the violin? 

I remember working at a violin shop and watching parents bring their kids to acquire a rental instrument. Some parents were so excited to see the half-sized violin (or smaller) in the hands of their children until they saw the bill. "Do I get my money back if I purchase the insurance?" I've heard a customer ask. I had not yet introduced shoulder rests, tuners or music stands to add to the bill. I always shared the importance of supplies and equipment for the violin and I was met with similar combativeness as a Gamestop employee selling a PowerUp rewards card and DLC might experience. 

During the time I used to teach violin privately, I realized that most parents of my students didn't understand that playing the violin costs more than money flowing from their wallets. Some of the best musicians had parents who sat with them during lessons and took notes. Parents who made sure practice time was a daily part of their child's lifestyle. Parents who sacrificed countless hours driving to lessons, concerts, music stores for supplies, fixing a popped string, driving to school to retrieve a forgotten instrument, budgeting for a lesson or competition or music camp. 

When  Emmanuel began the concerto, I saw the dedication and commitment his parents, family, friends, and colleagues sacrificed so that he could have the choice to perform at a professional caliber. I watched as parents and children in the audience turned to one another in excitement and awe. An older gentleman sitting in the row ahead of me smiled and nodded his head in approval. A mother sitting in the same row pointed at Emmanuel during a cadenza, wanting her daughter to pay attention. I couldn't help but feel proud because playing the violin is hard as hell and watched my friend go Super Saiyan on stage. 

I wondered at the time if people knew how difficult it is to play the violin. I struggle every day regardless of repertoire due to the amount I play for Hospice. I wrestle with strains from pinched nerves and tension from years of poor posture. Although significantly better, I play by the bedsides of Hospice patients or in Jails for inmates. I'm emotionally taxed after each session but I see in real time how the music can release positive emotions and bring peace to families or inmates. To see Emmanuel glide through the cadenzas seemed inhuman. Do people realize how physically exhausting it is to play hundreds if not thousands of notes all while your Fitbit tracker step count remains unchanged? Maybe the number increases by a few steps but your calorie count most likely stays the same.

Emmanuel asked me prior to the concert to write something about the experience and I had no idea. I thought perhaps I could ask him why he played the violin but by the end of the concert, I realized that I didn't need to ask. I saw his family and friends by the front of the stage chatting and waiting for him to come out of the green room. I felt the excitement and energy in their conversation from his playing. I could see that they were inspired by the boldness and love that Emmanuel poured into the music. 

I didn't know what to say to the Hospice patient when he said that I could play but that he couldn't. Not everyone can afford the lessons or invest the time. Some aren't blessed to have the support system or in a place to have skilled teachers. I remember the Hospice patient saying how much he enjoyed the music and that it was really really good. I left the Therapeutic Music session thankful to be able to play the violin the way I do and thankful for continual growth. I'm grateful Emmanuel took the opportunity to premiere a Violin Concerto and in doing so, inspired countless individuals through his love being a Violinist.