What We Have Left

The hall burst in applause as Itzhak Perlman appeared on the stage, took up his violin, and signaled to the conductor.

A couple of bars into the first song, one of Perlman’s strings snapped. It would have been quite understandable for the great violinist to bring the concert to a brief halt so that he could change the string and continue as he had rehearsed.

But, that’s not what he did.

He paused for a moment before signaling to the conductor to start from where they left off.

Perlman resolved to perform his solo with only three strings. He adjusted the notes in his head to accommodate the deficient instrument. When he was unable to find a comparable note on another string, he improvised. The piece held together spectacularly.

When the final note rang out, the audience sat in silence for just a moment, astonished at what they had just witnessed. Then, once again, they erupted into wild ovation.

Perlman waited until the noise died away before addressing the eager crowd.

“You know,” he said, “sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much beautiful music you can still make with what you have left.”

Perlman had full awareness of his weaknesses and full mastery of his strengths. He did not ignore the former, nor did he dismiss the latter.

We all have broken strings. We all have others still intact.

Artistic wisdom requires that we be both aware of our weaknesses and then learn to play to our strengths.

Only then can we make beautiful music with what we have left.