An attempted Analysis of a Musical Phenomenon – Part 4
On YouTube, a private video recording gives us a glimpse of little David as he plays his first violin. Did you see the look of fierce concentration on his face? Did you notice his attitude of let me show you what I can do? There is such determination in his look, and even at that tender age his whole manner shows that one day he is going to master this instrument.
Already there is a remarkable difference to other young children. Whereas their instrument is usually a strange entity and something they have to come to terms with across a gulf of separateness that often feels overwhelming, little David mentally embraces the violin. The movements of his bow are sweeping and confident, he knows how to produce a good sound, he is on pitch; no strangled cats here. Observing his father and brother as they play, he instinctively grasps what it is to be a violinist: what it should feel like, sound like, and look like. And already his temperament is that of a soloist. To achieve the matching skills will be the work of years, but the potential is undeniable.
Gradually he traverses the realm of fractions as his instrument grows with him, from that first, tiny 1/16 violin that looks like a toy, through the 1/8 and 1/4 sizes to the 1/2 and 3/4. Then, finally, the full size, the one he describes as having arrived at too early. That first Stradivari he received at age eleven was still somewhat too large for him, but it was an offer one would not have refused. It must be around this time, I suppose, that those malpositions began which later led to such problems with his posture and the resulting physical trouble he experienced; the pain and numbness that plagued his later teenage years to the point where he knew he had to stop, sort it all out and make a fresh start.
Watching YouTube material that shows this child-violinist in rehearsals and onstage, the unhealthy angle of his head gives the viewer an uncomfortable feeling. David’s face is resting on his instrument almost as if it were a pillow. Yes, this does illustrate his connection with the violin as the interface that produces his sound, but it also makes one worry about the discs of his neck, because this is a posture he assumes for hours each day, over months and through years. What were the adults around him thinking, one wonders. Didn’t they notice? Fortunately, David himself was able to change his habits in time to give his still resilient body the opportunity to recover.
The footage that shows David Garrett after his time in New York also shows the liberation of his face from his instrument. Now his head is upright and free as he plays, and he has shed those involuntary facial expressions (so typical of string players) that were still part of his playing in the early years. His bearing and all his movements are an image of complete liberation. The hard work it must have been to arrive at this seeming effortlessness can only be guessed at.
Interviewers have sometimes asked David Garrett if his violins have nicknames, if he has a romantic relationship with his instrument, if maybe it could be described as his woman … Now this is where I would roll my eyes and express disbelief and disgust; but David patiently explains, yet again, that he never had nicknames for his violins, that the relationship is entirely businesslike, and that, although it could be called a partnership and there is certainly attachment, the instrument is primarily a means to an end, and that end is MUSIC.
But there remains an enduring fascination on any interviewer’s part with the great name of Stradivari, with the thought that David Garrett’s best violin equals the value of a row of suburban homes or a country estate, and also with the fact that he once had the heartcrushing misfortune to slip and fall on his violin case, thereby damaging the instrument it contained. (It was not the Stradivari.) David says little about the time it took him to come to terms with that blow, with the daily renewed realization of this grief, but you can imagine the pain.
Now imagine carrying an object of such value through your days and much of your nights. How does it affect you? Surely it must train a heightened awareness that extends beyond the boundaries of your natural self. An attitude of protective care develops, a habitual carefulness that will in time become second nature. (As we know, first-time parents of newborns get thrown into this state without any preparation.) Organists, pianists and harpists obviously excepted, most musicians have the carrying of something vulnerable and precious through their daily lives in common. This tender, protective care is a soul quality we have always rated highly in any man. And David Garrett, trained by necessity, must necessarily have this quality in abundance. It is yet another attractive facet of his character, another string to his bow. (And never has this expression seemed more apt.)