The notes and the spaces between them

As a professional writer, my medium has almost always been the written or spoken word. So, when I saw this performance by violinist Robert Gupta and cellist Joshua Roman at a March 2011 TED Conference, what touched me most was the power of their communication beyond words. I was grateful to be speechless.

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The piece Gupta and Roman play in this video is Johan Halvorsen’s “Passacaglia.” It is written for violin and viola, but Joshua Roman plays the viola part on his Stradivarius cello instead. Their generous, honest performance is deeply moving not only for the richness of their notes, but also for their risks in the spaces between them. When I see them perform, and when I discover their stories, it is clear to me that they have opened themselves wide to let Life flow through them, not only in their music but also in the streets.

Robert Gupta joined the LA Philharmonic when he was 19, already 8 years into his music career. That was four years ago. In addition to a Masters in music, Gupta did his undergraduate degree in pre-med (neurobiology). And he is a mental health activist as well as a musician. In fact, he teaches violin to Nathaniel Ayers, the brilliant schizophrenic musician discovered on the streets of LA and portrayed so beautifully in the film “The Soloist.”

At 26, Joshua Roman has been called a “classical rock star” by the press for his “absolute commitment to communicating the essence of the music at its most organic level.” In 2006, at the age of 22, he won the role of principle cellist of the Seattle Symphony, the youngest musician ever to be a principle player there. Just two years later, he launched his solo career. Roman can as easily be found playing nightclubs or online in his video series, “The Popper Project.” He also travels frequently to Uganda to perform with his violinist siblings for schoolchildren in HIV/AIDS centers and refugee camps.

In 26 years as a freelance writer, my work has often been solitary. I have sometimes longed for the kind of creative connection that passes so visibly between these two young musicians. And some of my most meaningful work has occurred on the sidelines, when I was invited to play in someone else’s project.

“Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.” (John Lennon)

At times today, I find myself isolated in my own ambition, and that kind of solitude is far from creative. At the same time, Life is offering me more and more opportunities to share the pure joy of creative exchange with others. It is not easy for any of us today who have a vision, to let go of our agendas and allow Life to direct the flow. But, more often than not, our most prolific moments come in the spaces between the notes, if we are willing to risk going there.

Enjoy this raw, imperfect and brilliant performance. And notice how much Life occurs in the spaces between the notes as in the notes themselves.

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