I am strolling casually through a shopping center in the company of a violinist friend. Ursula, born in Hungary, is today a top musician in two international philharmonic orchestras. All of a sudden she grabs my arm:
I listen. I hear voices, adult voices, children shouting, noises of televisions turned on in electrical-appliance shops, high heels clip-clopping on the tiled floor, and that well-known music that is omnipresent in shopping centers the world over.
“So, isn’t it marvelous?”
I answer that I hear nothing marvelous or special.
“The piano!” she says, throwing me a look of disappointment. “The pianist is marvelous!”
“It must be a recording.”
“Don’t talk nonsense.”
Listening more carefully, it becomes obvious that the music is live. Now a Chopin sonata is being played, and now that I can concentrate, the notes seem to conceal all the noise surrounding us. We stroll through the corridors jammed with people, shops, reduced prices, things that they claim everyone has – except you and me. We reach the food plaza: people eating, chatting, arguing, reading newspapers, and one of those special attractions that all shopping centers try to offer their customers.
In this case, a piano and a pianist.
He plays two more sonatas by Chopin, and then Schubert, Mozart. He must be about 30; a notice hanging at the side of the small stage explains that he is a famous musician from Georgia, one of the former Soviet Republics. He must have been looking for work, doors were closed, he became desperate, resigned himself and now he is here.
But I am not sure that he is even here: his eyes look at the magic world this music was composed, his hands share with everyone the love, the soul, the enthusiasm, the best of himself, his years of study, concentration and discipline.
The only thing he seems not to have understood is that nobody, absolutely nobody has gone there to hear him play, but to buy, eat, enjoy themselves, look at shop windows and meet friends. A couple stops beside us, talking in a loud voice, and then moves on. The pianist has not seen this – he is still chatting with Mozart’s angels. Nor has he seen that there is an audience of two, one of whom, a talented violinist, is listening to him play with tears in her eyes.
I remember a chapel which I once just happened to enter and saw a girl playing for God. But she was in a chapel, that made sense; in this case, nobody is listening, perhaps not even God.
Lies. God is listening. God is in this man’s soul and hands, because he is giving the best of himself, regardless of any recognition or the money he received. He plays as if he were in the Scala in Milan or in the Opéra in Paris. He plays because this is his destiny, his joy, his reason for being.
I am seized by a feeling of deep reverence. Respect for a man who at that moment is recalling a very important lesson: you have a personal legend to fulfill, period. It is of no matter if others support you, or criticize, ignore or tolerate you – you are doing that because that is your destiny on this earth, and the source of any joy.
The pianist ends another piece by Mozart and for the first time notices our presence. He greets us with a well-mannered, discreet nod of the head, which we answer. But then he returns at once to his paradise, and it is best to leave him there untouched by anything in this world, not even our timid applause. He is setting an example for all of us. When we feel that no-one is paying attention to what we are doing, let us think about this pianist: he was conversing with God through his work, and the rest was not of the least importance.
“The Zahir” is being published all over the world this year. Click here for more information.