I was totally lost. In the middle of a rehearsal with the Harrogate Philharmonic, the conductor abruptly stopped the Mendelssohn symphony and directed us to correct the articulation of the semiquavers in measure 99 or so. My nose crinkled and a look of utter confusion spread across my face. I had never heard of a semiquaver and was inferring the meaning of his direction from the context of the measures he was speaking about. It really was a new vernacular to master as I found myself playing and performing with the lovely British people in Harrogate and the surrounding areas. I laughed at myself to have thought that the language of music was simply Italian and French, sometimes German. I had never imagined that English speakers would use totally different terms across the pond. Silly me. I learned quickly–crochets, quavers, semiquavers. Just new terms for the very familiar quarter note, eight and sixteenth. I also learned the violinists there prefer to warm up right before the concert with some strong Scotch, hidden in discreet flasks in the violin cases. And those acoustics in the old cathedrals and churches can be quite challenging! Blessed with an amazing accompanist while I lived there, I was able to perform and play such great music. I miss it.
Years earlier, in Jerusalem, on Mt. Scopus, I was excited to be performing Bach Concerto in E Major with the incredible view of the old city as a backdrop. It felt as though I had an audience on both sides as the old stone walls and the lights on the Dome of the Rock filled the hall from one side, and the stage spotlight and live audience filled the other. I attended the Symphony there in Jerusalem on another occasion, grateful to hear beautiful and familiar music in a place so foreign to me. Again, in Tel Aviv I enjoyed the musical Les Miserables, sung in Hebrew. It was profound to hear music so personal sung in another beautiful language. These moments fill me with gratitude.
My French-speaking ability was pretty dismal after living in Brussels for just a few short weeks. I was homesick and endured language headaches every day as I strained to understand and speak as much as I could. In the midst of this struggle, I was approached by Monique, who knew I was a violinist without an instrument in a strange land. She invited me to her apartment near the Grand Place downtown to play her violin and get to know her. As I played, she opened her heart to me, and offered to loan me her violin for the duration of my stay in Europe. I moved around a bit, from Brussels to La Louviere, to Strasbourg and then Luxembourg Ville, and that violin provided me with much needed sanity and expression when my speaking ability failed me. Music opened doors and opportunities to me there. It opened hearts.
Open hearts and dancing feet are what I found in Helsinki as I played in an unusual engagement on a yacht. I do not speak any Finnish but the people were so friendly and loved the music. Finland is a beautiful place with many talented people. I had a borrowed violin again on that occasion, but felt right at home.
The beautiful thing about music is that it speaks for itself. No matter what language or culture you are from. No words are needed to communicate. I love that about playing the violin.