from Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
written by Chieri Uegaki
illustrated by Qin Leng
Kids Can Press, 2014
We were a musical family. My grandmother played the mandolin. She also played the piano. My dad played the banjo, Mom played the clarinet, my brother and my sister both played the violin. My brother also played the viola..
I wanted to play the piano. My grandparents bought me an upright that sat in my parents’ living room. I took piano lessons all through grade school, but they didn’t stick. My piano ended up in all of my own living rooms. Moving pianos is expensive and can be tricky when steps are involved. My piano is a little out of tune and the C above middle C gets stuck sometimes. My attachment is sentimental, not practical.
Music lessons came with recitals. My mom worked for the school, so she was busy organizing the performance schedules and making punch, putting out the cookies and making sure the bathrooms were equipped with toilet paper and soap. Dad sat with us after we had our turns on stage. He liked to sit in the front row where we could find him.
Then it was time for the trombone. I don’t remember the student, but he was very close to the edge of the stage. The slide actually hung over, sliding about six inches from my dad’s nose. Really. My dad was cool. That day he taught me how to laugh without moving my mouth, only my shoulders. Till tears fall. And you need a handkerchief. All our shoulders were shaking, my sister’s, my brother’s, my dad’s and mine. We shared his hanky.
In junior high, Mom gave me her clarinet. I took lessons and joined the school orchestra. I never got one of the important seats, but the summer before 10th grade, I tried out for the orchestra in our summer community theater and got in. My musical claim to fame was the solo clarinet accompaniment to “I Feel Pretty” in West Side Story. It’s not very long and it’s not very difficult, but it is a solo. And it was mine. I loved that little piece of anonymous limelight.
Yesterday was the eightieth anniversary of another orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic.. Bronislaw Huberman, a violin prodigy who continued to attract rock-star-sized crowds as an adult, saw Hitler rise to power in his beloved Germany. Huberman gathered the finest musicians from orchestras in Germany, Poland and other countries in Hitler’s path and convinced them to move with their families to what was then Palestine. He secured visas. He made housing arrangements. He bought and renovated an auditorium. He persuaded his friend Arturo Tuscanini to leave Italy to conduct the first concert. And the Palestine Orchestra was born. Many people who would have been murdered brought music, culture, hope, love to a world caught up in horror and sorrow.
William Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on,” in Act I, scene 1 of Twelfth Night. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking of Tuscanini, Huberman or my dabbling with the piano or clarinet, but the sentiment is true.
Music feeds my soul. It helps me express love. And encourages me to pray. I’ll start the New Year singing.