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Adagio for Strings

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

I'll never be able to listen to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber (1910-1981) without thinking back to an evening with Sarah and Noel, our neighbors when we all lived in Toquerville. Ever since Eli started to play the violin under the Suzuki method of learning, he would perform whatever he was working on at the time. The early years were a scratchy, slightly ear-piercing "Twinkle Twinkle", "Lightly Row", "Song of the Wind" and others. As he grew older, the pieces got more complicated.

It was after dinner, with glasses of wine in hand, that I asked Eli to play. Sarah worked for Zion National Park at the time and Noel is a retired archeologist and Vet who flew helicopters in Vietnam and the Gulf War. He told me a few harrowing stories about losing friends, but he kept it pretty close.

Eli was practicing the Adagio for Strings for a concert and I was the proud dad that wanted him to share his latest efforts. At the time, he was a 15 or 16-year-old pimply kid with glasses that magnified his eyes and kept his left eye from crossing. As he opened the violin case, set up his stand, and thumbed through the music, we were all probably yucking it up and telling off-color jokes. When Eli started in on the piece, it took just a note or two for the room to fall silent. I don't know if Noel showed any emotion at that moment, but we could all just feel that something was happening and he was being transported.

After Eli finished, and while we were drying our eyes, Noel explained that for Vietnam Vets, Adagio for Strings is a symbol of the war. This explained the sadness and intensity in the room that night and I can't begin to understand the memories and depth of feeling Noel was experiencing.

For me, the thing that sets this so solidly in my memory is that here, in our living room, were two kind and gentle human beings. Noel, with a history of war, tragedy, and heartbreak who is growing older, with mortality within his sights, and Eli, a young, naive kid who was just getting started. A kid that will soon have his own heartbreak and loss, and what resonated then, and is more clear now is that I can't protect him. I can't protect him from my mortality or his or any of the other disappointments and losses that will come his way. His innocence and inexperience at that moment were so beautiful. That he had no idea, why a piece like that should resonate so deeply with Noel, was such a precious contrast. Two humans connected that day on a cellular level through the medium of art and music. The rest of us were bystanders and witnesses to something immensely sacred, and profound.

After he was finished, Eli stood there blinking, a little confused while the rest of us wiped away our tears. It is with gratitude that I got to be in that room that evening with Noel and Eli, who graced us with this hallowed moment.

This blog was inspired by Chase Jarvis's PodCast and this Guest, Clemency Burton-Hill.

Here's what Eli has been up to since he broke our hearts with Adagio for Strings. 3hattrio


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