My first opera experience last night was a huge success, and while I work on paring that grand experience down into a piece short enough to publish here, as long as we’re on an orchestral bent, how about I share some thoughts about Steve Inskeep’s interview of Itzhak Perlman on NPR’s Morning Edition a couple weeks ago.I’ve heard Itzhak Perlman perform on the radio and on television, but without being able to see the renowned violinist on stage, I had no idea he had a disability until I heard that radio interview and learned that Perlman contracted polio when he was 4 years old. He’s used crutches ever since, and when he was asked about his disability during the NPR interview, he said it has nothing to do with his performance. “I can’t walk very well, but I’m not onstage to do walking,” he told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “I’m on the stage to play.”
I thought it was a great answer. Steve Inskeep, however, kept pushing with follow-up questions: Does it make any difference to you that you sit rather than stand during solos? Did polio limit your options, and that’s why you gravitated to playing the violin? So you’re telling me that people expected no less of you because you couldn’t walk?
I know that those of us who have disabilities are in the minority, and its human nature to be curious about how and why we do the things we do. But isn’t one or two questions enough? Before asking one of his many, many disability-related questions during the interview, Inskeep acknowledged that the particular one he was about to ask would be “surely an unanswerable question” and then went on to ask it anyway. “Would you have been the same musician that you are had you not been stricken with polio at a very young age?” Perlman’s answer to the surely unanswerable question was just another example of what a gracious and self-aware man he is:
“I think yes. You know, a lot of people like to think that polio was an inspiration in what I do. I think that music has to do with what kind of passion do you have. If I was destined to be a musician, it would have happened.”
So hmm. Maybe the reason I didn’t know that Itzhak Perlman had a disability has nothing to do with the fact that I can’t see him. It’s just that his disability is not the most important – or most interesting — thing about him.