Here is something I wanted to write about for quite some time:
I became an American citizen just over two years ago. Shortly after, I was playing concerts in the mid-west and was invited to a luncheon hosted by patrons of the orchestra that I was performing with. Upon learning that I recently became naturalized I was greeted with tumultuous applause, and a pin with an American flag was given to me.
Innocently I slipped it into my pocket, and sat at my assigned table. As it turned out, the hostess of this event was sitting next to me and apparently noticed that the pin was not attached to my jacket. Suddenly she exclaimed, "Look! He is NOT being patriotic!" That took me by total surprise, and I was somewhat hurt.
My former teacher - Leon Fleisher - once remarked about my talking capabilities: "all that Alon needs is a conductors up-beat... and he will start talking" he said. My hostess' observation was the "up-beat" for me to talk. It was an opportunity for me to open up and discuss about some of the things I love most and able to do in this country.
I told my proud hostess that when I am giving concerts throughout the US, I make it a point to visit and play at schools, retirement homes, and rotary clubs, to name just a few, in order to contribute as well as feel more responsible for the community around me. I went even further and shared with her two extraordinary experiences that I had while pursuing these goals.
Back in 2004, I was invited to play in the Quad cities by an organization called Quad City Arts. During a period of two weeks, in addition to performing two recitals, I was sent to nearly THIRTY different places to encourage growth and vitality in the community through the "presentation, development, and celebration" of music. One of these places was a mentally handicapped facility in Davenport, IA. My program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin accompanied by some commentary. At the end of the concert, I wondered whether people might want to ask questions. That happens quite often. With some hesitation I turned to my audience of about 250 people and asked just that.
About fifty people raised their hands and the first question already put me on the alert: "Why did the third song sound Russian to me?" By all accounts this is a terrific question. Right? The third song was Schubert's Moment Musicaux no. 3, which does sound a bit folksy. After a momentary thinking pause, I brought forth the possibilities of cross relationship in music that comes from different regions. Schubert might have heard musicians in the town square in Vienna - some Russians, some gypsies, as well as others from rural areas - and have been influenced by that consciously or subconsciously. All of a sudden, I remembered seeing the title... "A Russian Dance" on one of the preliminary drafts of this piece! I was shocked. What a discovery. I immediately told my enthusiastic crowd about this.
Here was someone who was perceived as mentally challenged; Yet, in something so elusive and so high-spirited as music, he was more capable, more CONNECTED than most other people.
The second story I shared happened just a week before this luncheon, when I gave a solo recital for Beaches Fine Arts Series in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. In the days before the recital, I visited several places in that area to do community outreach activities. One of these places was the Boselli Foundation, an organization striving to help children living in at-risk neighborhoods. There were about twenty kids aged twelve and thirteen. My program revolved around the Beethoven so called "Moonlight" Sonata. I constructed a story around the piece about a composer who went through crisis and cannot even come up with a melody, a tune, for his new piece. As the piece progressed we joined the composer and slowly emerged victorious and rehabilitated. Then I played the entire piece for them. The children were entranced, filled with delight. Was it about discovering something new? Maybe the possibility of understanding classical music? Well, it doesn't really matter. When I finished, a young girl raised her hand before I said a word and said, "Mister, you are WRONG. This music is about LOVE, not about DESPAIR."
Wow! A rebel! But she was absolutely and unequivocally right! Not because she knew what the music was about, but rather because she THOUGHT she knew what it was about. She allowed the music to enter her heart and open various possibilities for different stories emerging as a result of her integrity and imagination. How wonderful, how unique. The idea that music, in its essence, is above all stories, and consequently can live in infinite number of stories – that was a secret I tried to keep from the children until after the performance. I could not, because of a young girl who had chutzpa.
Afterwords, I opened the piano and showed the kids the mechanics, the inside of the instrument. I asked them to come closer. They came, but not to see. They wanted to touch – touch me!
These were just two stories out of many that I have experienced. Going out into the community, sharing the gift of music gives me also a great sense of belonging to this unique and complex society. It also makes me feel patriotic. I turned to my hostess for one last time to witness her reaction, to see the look on her face, the light in her eyes. Maybe a smile? A hug? What would she say? How would she respond?
The whole time she had not even been listening.