Excerpt: What happens when the music stops? Where does it go? What’s left? What sticks with people at the end of a performance? Is it a melody or a rhythm or a mood or an attitude? And how might that change their lives? To me this is the intimate, personal side of music. It’s the “passing on” part, the “why” part of it. And to me that’s the most essential of all…

Michael Tilson Thomas

Now that we have unlimited access to music, what does stick with us? Well, let me share with you a story of what I mean by really sticking with us. I was visiting a cousin of mine in an old-age home, and I spied a very shaky old man making his way across the room on a walker. He came over to a piano that was there, and he balanced himself and began playing something like this. [plays notes on piano] And he said something like, “Me…boy…symphony…Beethoven…” And I suddenly got it and I said, “Friend, by any chance are you trying to play this?” [plays Beethoven concerto] And then he said, [excitedly] “Yes, yes, I was a little boy. The symphony, Isaac Stern, the concerto, I heard it.” And I thought, My God, how much must this music mean to this man, that he would get himself out of bed, across the room, to recover the memory of this music! That after everything in his life is sloughing away, still means so much to him…

Well, that’s why I take every performance so seriously, why it matters to me so much. I never know who might be there, who might be absorbing it, and what will happen to it in their life.

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