My father, Irving, was born on this day, December 5, 1911. Today would have been his 108th birthday. I think he would have gotten a kick seeing my TEDxSaltLakeCity2019 talk, “War & Peace. And Music,” which was posted on TED Talk’s website today, and which I would like to share with you.
One reason I think that’s the case, other than paternal pride, was that when I was a kid I was shier than most, and was a total failure when it came to speaking in front of people. Simply making conversation with people I didn’t know well made me shrink into corners.
One time, in junior high school, as part of our English curriculum we had what was called a “speak off.” Everyone in the class had to make a speech or recite something in front of a large assembly. Prizes were offered to the winning speakers. I didn’t know what the hell to talk about. There was no subject I could imagine anyone would have the slightest interest hearing me tell them about. So my father, a big Rudyard Kipling fan, coaxed me to recite the poem, Gunga Din. He coached me for weeks, giving me tips on oratorical skills associated with public speaking, but I just didn’t have it in me at that point in my life. When it was my turn, I walked onstage, mumbled some words about “Din, Din, Din” and slinked off the stage. Thank God that was over. The winner, wouldn’t you guess, recited Gunga Din. My father was disappointed, but I don’t think he was surprised.
Over the years, as I had more occasion to speak in front of gatherings, I developed a degree of confidence. When I first joined the Boston Symphony at age 22, my voice trembled at orchestra meetings with the fast vibrato I always strove for on the violin, but given a lot of support by my colleagues, speaking out became much more comfortable.
By the time my first book, Devil’s Trill, was released and my publisher encouraged me to do a book tour, I actually enjoyed speaking at book stores, with book clubs, and the like. Now there are times when it’s hard to get me to shut up.
All of this lifelong experience provided excellent preparation for my TEDxSaltLakeCity2019 recitation of my essay, which considers the value of music and musicians in creating a more peaceful world. Belatedly, then: Thank you, Dad, for your pointers. And happy birthday.
[ The text of “War & Peace. And Music,” is one of many essays about the world of classical music in my book, Symphonies & Scorpions.]