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“Where Words Fail, Music Speaks…”


An astute quotation by the late author and poet, Hans Christian Andersen.  I’ve chosen to adopt this as my personal modus operandi because in five words, Mr. Andersen was able to define every musicians purpose in life, as well as my own aspirations in music.  How many conversations, arguments, stories breakdown because of the inherent inadequacies of words and letters?  I know I’ve experienced this many times.  Music can bring color to a movie, brighten up a story or liven up a conversation.   Where words impotently crash and burn, music is able to take off and soar.


I had the chance to communicate these thoughts when I was asked to complete an essay to the world renowned Juilliard School.


The question:

“Dr. Joseph Polisi, Juilliard’s president, has stated: ‘…[talented young people are] responsible for more than getting the notes right or the words right or the steps right. They have to be missionaries for the arts.’ Write about how, as an artist, you intend to advocate for the relevancy of the arts in the twenty-first century.”


This was my response:


There I was, only two years into the start of my life when I heard my brother practicing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Standing in a crib, that day started my journey into the microcosm called music and violin.


My brother was a missionary to me.


Perhaps unintentionally, we musicians have become accustomed to the ritual of practicing, performing, and waiting for applause. How unfortunate it would be if applause were the only goal. Every musician owes a debt to their teachers, to their art and to themselves to promote not only consumption of, but also participation in music.


The world needs it more than ever.


So what makes you and I (or anyone for that matter) “come back for more?”  What makes a true “missionary for the arts?”  Is it more than just “Practice Makes Perfect” that makes a “musician” a musician?  Or is there a connection that needs to be made with the soul?


When I think of reaching my audience, one particular experience comes to mind. It wasn’t the size of the venue, or the location, or even the prestige of the performance; it was a funeral and I felt I was able to touch people. By the end of the service, a lady who was moved by the music approached me and offered to give me her fourth generation 1725 Italian violin. I now continue to use that violin to touch people and have discovered what makes a musician a “missionary for the arts.”


Artists of yesteryear had a way of conveying a message that their listeners could connect with. One particular musician comes to mind, Itzhak Perlman and the theme to Schindler’s List.  The notes and measures are there for anyone to play, but his interpretation expressed the loss, angst, and pain that the victims experienced. He added this feeling; a message into his performance that transported the audience from their chairs to the very camps where the people suffered.   He brought their minds to a sense of frugal listening. Listeners knew without knowing and just by hearing the exact portrait of the Holocaust.


He was a true “missionary for the arts.”


You might ask how I will be a “missionary for the arts?”  I will accomplish this by first making music true to my own experience. Each note I play must be an earnest reflection of how I feel about the piece. Only when the music moves me, can it begin to move others. When the audience feels what I feel, that connection starts. I realize that my goal requires a fresh approach to each music piece with nothing taken for granted and that every note and every bow stroke must be examined with care. The connection forged between a “missionary for the arts” and his or her audience is the result of music not merely heard but felt, understood and lived. Like forerunners of my artistic endeavors, Heifetz, Kreisler, and Stern, I will connect with my audience in a profound way. Whether in an orchestra, chamber group or solo performance, I will advocate to my generation a renewed appreciation for, and participation in our art.


If I can succeed in those things, I will become a “missionary for the arts.”


Miclen Elwin LaiPang


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