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“The only thing I can’t … teach is whether a musician can get through to his guts. They have to find that themselves, and some of them never do.” So says the seventy-two year-old-world-renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman, the subject of Chernick Alison’s documentary (2018). Such discoveries usually occur in the wake of intense suffering.

I suggest that Itzhak’s came to him during his formative years. His Polish parents fled their country in advance of Hitler’s ghettoization. Their purchase of a toy violin at a Tel Aviv thrift shop for their three-and-a-half-year only son, too small to hold a real one, evidenced their hardscrabble existence. And six months later, their shock as they dealt with Itzhak’s polio-ravaged body.

Multi-faceted interventions followed: medications and special diets to restore what was left of Itzhak’s health, passive range of motion exercises for his paralyzed legs, constant adjustment of his shoes and the heavy leg braces and crutches to accommodate his growth. When thirteen, his prodigious talent brought him and his parents to Manhattan where he began his studies at the Julliard School of Music—again, leaving behind everything familiar.

More studies solidified Itzhak’s violin playing with his gut, the sacred core of his being. Always listening, he still approaches each note with reverence, as if taking direction as to when to enter it, how long to stay, and when to leave it behind. His facial expression reflects this passionate embrace. Such playing informs Itzhak’s uniqueness and still crowds concert halls around the world.

Alison’s short documentary, Itzhak, offers clues to Itzhak’s genius—A must see.

 

 

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So exclaimed Mary R Woodard (no period after the letter R), her body broken by decades of washing, ironing, and cleaning for others in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child she hunkered down in a ditch in Christian County, Kentucky, and watched her twenty-year-old uncle lynched for looking at a white woman. Following her move North as part of the Great Migration, her experience of racism morphed into “bitter with sweet meanness.” Psalm 37 protected her gentle spirit from its contagion.

 Into Mary’s life came another outsider, Jane Ellen Ibur, a toddler living in an affluent home with a swimming pool. Screaming battles with her parents led her to seek Mary’s bosom, in their basement where she ironed.

This little girl subsequently became a teacher and a poet who honored her mentor in this poetic memoir, both wings flappin’, still not flyin’ (2014). Their mutual selflessness defies words: Mary’s habitual recourse to God and Jane’s care of her the last eleven years of her life—such reveals the brilliance of the Sacred Feminine.

We learn from them.

 

“The answer to those who would kill the human spirit is to revenge with beauty,” says one of the musicians with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, as found in this inspiring documentary (2016), directed by Morgan Neville. Another musician from Tehran asks, “Does my playing the clarinet stop a bullet?” Such comments speak of an evolving form of music, never before heard or even imagined that enlivens spirit.

How did this ensemble come about? The impetus came from the Chinese-American world-acclaimed cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, and his need to distance himself from the traditional music he had mastered for decades and to plunge into the shadowy void of his unconscious in search for something new.

In 2000 Yo-Yo Ma scoured countries near the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes joining the East with the West, looking for one-of-a-kind musicians, composers, and artists, many of whom had been scarred from revolutions in their countries. That summer he brought these strangers with their native instruments (a pipa, a duduk, a Shakuhachi, a morimn khuur, a Mongolian horse head fiddle, and many others) to the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. Months of painstaking listening, of playing “natural, from the heart,” and of interweaving harmonies from differing cultures, eventually transformed them into the new sound Yo-Yo Ma sought. Their end-of-the-summer-concert evoked in inexpressible AH! from the audience.

It was the 9/11 disaster, however, that convinced the ensemble to continue working together and to share their ever-new evolving voice all over the world; it speaks of peace, of harmonious living—the antidote to the killing spirit intent upon the division and mayhem infecting the globe.

 

 

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