On Nov. 18, 1995, violinist Itzhak Perlman, performed a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. Stricken with polio as a child, Perlman painfully walked with the aid of two crutches to a chair in the middle of the stage. He carefully laid the crutches on the floor, loosened the clasps of his leg braces, extended one leg forward and the other underneath his chair, picked up his instrument and nodded to the conductor to begin.
But something went wrong. After only seconds of playing, one of the strings on his violin broke. The snap was a gunfire reverberating in the auditorium. The audience immediately knew what happened and fully expected the concert to be suspended until another string or even another instrument could be found.
But Perlman surprised them. He quietly composed himself, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra resumed where they had left off and Perlman played — on three strings. He played with passion and power. All the time he worked out new fingering in his mind to compensate for the missing string. A work that few people could play well on four strings Perlman accomplished on three.
When he finished, an awesome silence hung in the room. And then as one, the crowd rose to their feet and cheered wildly. Applause burst forth from every corner of the auditorium as fans showed deep appreciation for his talent and his courage.
Perlman smiled and wiped the sweat from this brow. Then he raised his bow to quiet the crowd and said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
Perlman should know. Polio left him with less stamina than he had before, yet he went on. Playing a concert on three strings is not unlike his philosophy of life — he persevered with what he had left and still made music.
And isn’t that true with us? Our task is to find out how much music we can still make with what we have left. How much good we can still do. How much joy we can still share. For I’m convinced that the world, more than ever, needs the music only you and I can make.
And if it takes extra courage to make the music, many will applaud your effort. For some people have lost more than others, and these brave souls inspire the rest of us to greater heights.
So I want to ask, “How much music can you make with what you have left?”