My Isaac Stern Moment
By Austin Repath  National Post, July 5, 2004

Sometimes one moment in which you stand with the great ones makes it all worthwhile.  Let me tell you about my moment.  I was in my early twenties, when my uncle willed it to me.  A rather odd bequest, I thought, for I had no interest in music.  I couldn’t even carry a tune.  But there it was on the table, the dying wish of a man I hardly knew, a violin.
       I hung it on the wall.  I had more important things to think about - getting a job, finding a mate, learning how to downhill ski.
      Then one day I decided to teach myself how to play the violin.  It would probably be a little like learning to ski, I told myself.  A friend showed me how to read the notes and where to put my fingers.  After awhile however it became too much work, and the violin went back up on the wall.
      There she remained, until one day on an impulse, I enrolled in The Royal Conservatory of Music.  And so began a series of lessons, that ended abruptly when my teacher hinted that I might want to consider another instrument.  Once again the violin was on the wall.
      A pattern began to establish itself: brief bouts of lessons, little progress, much frustration.  Yet, at the same time a relationship was developing between myself and Madame Violin. Although very off and on again, we were definitely an item.
      Then with the onslaught of mid life, the relationship became even more committed.  I bought an expensive bow, began studying the violin seriously, and learned why my grade school choir master had asked me just to mouth the words.  I was tone deaf.
      The next step seemed obvious - a voice teacher.  I explained my problem to her, “I can’t sing a note.”  She pushed down middle C on the piano.  I made a strange sound.  She made a face. 
      And so the winter passed with me chasing after middle C.  That summer I went to music camp.  I went into the voice class.  After several members of the class went up to the front and sang operatic arias and assorted other pieces in foreign languages, I found myself the only one who hadn’t sung.  I got up.
     “What would you like to sing?” the instructor, a petite woman, asked.
      “A middle C,” I blurted out.  Everyone laughed.  The instructor went along with my little joke and hit middle C.  I made a noise.  Nobody laughed.  By week’s end I found myself singing the C major scale and everyone in the class applauded. Encouraged, I built a repertoire of old familiar songs. 
       Now to find an audience.  God bless them, seniors in old people’s homes were there for the picking.  I could go into a retirement home, and they had to listen to me.  Then I began to realize that they wanted to listen.  For some reason, my voice could do things I didn’t tell it to.  It added style and tone to notes, emotion and feeling to the words.  Hey, I was good.  Those lucky people got a great evening of song.
      But the violin was still my first love.  It was with her that I wanted to make beautiful music.  But she was still high and haughty.  She would promise much and like a naïve lover I would leaped into her arms, only to be scorned as not worthy of her attention. 
      She had no compulsion about humbling me in public.  Auditioning for a street festival, I became so nervous, the bow started bounces off the strings.  I can still remember the judges smirking, and my own embarrassment.  Undaunted I performed at a friend’s soiree, and even I could hear the scratchy unmusical notes as we stumbled through a piece together.  However in the privacy of my room, she and I would dance, and more than once, I found myself transported into realms that lay beyond words.  But always in public as if ashamed to be heard with me, she would humiliate me. 
       Then one evening, I’m standing in front of two dozen Alzheimer patients in a nursing home.  I tuck my violin under my chin, in that casual way that Isaac Stern used to do.  I nod to my accompanist and lay my bow on the strings.  A sweet, sad sound of days past fills the room.  Forgotten dreams are remembered.  I look about me as the vacant eyes come back to life.  I can hardly believe this is me creating such magic.  I notice a blind lady in her 90s who obviously has an ear for music.  She thrills as I reach a high A on the E string, and shouts out in pure delight, “Wonderful, you play so wonderfully!” 
      At that moment I stand with Stern, Menuhin, Heifitz.  With them I am playing to the peak of my ability before an adoring audience.  And I knew then that it had all been worthwhile.