By: Paula Chirinos
Have you ever had that gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach before you went up in front of hundreds (maybe thousands) of people to give a speech or a performance? That’s exactly what I was feeling before I walked up on that stage. I was sitting backstage with my teacher, waiting for the stage crew people to call me to go through the dark, fancy door and join the rest of the performers. It seemed like so much time had passed before they actually called my name and every second, I felt like there were knots twisting in my stomach. My legs couldn’t stay still as they were shaking and I felt like I was losing my balance to my unnecessary high heels that my mom made me wear during special occasions. Despite all this however, I knew that there was a part of me that wasn’t scared at all since it kept reminding me that I had been preparing for this moment longer than I thought. I finally walked out into the concert hall, greeted the conductor, then the pianist and looked back at my peers who were the backing chorus for my solo. They gave me looks of encouragement and then, among the murmur of the crowd in the audience, I began tuning my instrument. With the instruction of the conductor, I finally put my violin up on my shoulder and all my previous fears vanished. Silence surrounded every being in the auditorium, my bow went up and I started playing.
One cannot say they’ve truly mastered the art of the violin until they’ve learned to become one with their instrument. They must vanish every other thought in their mind once they put that violin on their shoulder and devote the whole performance to conserving the beauty of each of the songs they play as well as knowing their role in the orchestra. I get into a trance whenever I start playing in recitals and concerts, one which I cannot accurately describe. It soothes my anxiety since I truly feel as though I become one with the rest of my peers in the orchestra. My feelings during this performance were different however. It was just me playing my violin with a chorus backing my solo, yet I had the greatest amount of confidence during this performance than any other. I didn’t realize until soon after, that there were actually thoughts going through my head. They were in fact more than thoughts actually, they were memories; memories of my late grandmother and the one promise I made to her years ago. My mind first wandered to my youth, when I was with her dressed up like a little doctor and gave my grandma one of her “regular check ups”. I promised her that whenever she was sick, she could call me so that I could take care of her. This was easy then since my family’s apartment was very close to hers. The next memory I had was of me trying to learn my solo piece for my NYSSMA audition. My violin teacher assigned me to learn a piece known as the “Violin Concerto in A minor” by the composer, Antonio Vivaldi. I remembered that I had called my grandma after having run through the whole song a couple of times. I then played the piece for her followed by her loud praise of my ability. Her cheers were so unique. They consisted of her joyful, high-pitched comments on how proud she was of me; ones that would make everyone in the room turn to look at the loud grandma sitting in the back of the room yelling “Bravo Paula Bravo!”. They were cheers I often heard whenever she went to see my concerts or my volleyball games. Then I thought about her face. She was always smiling. She was a proud woman and she definitely had a lot to be proud of, with her children and grandchildren accomplishing so much. The last time I had seen her that proud was when I went to visit her in the hospital and read to her as I helped her stroll around in her wheelchair. We stopped at various spots that day, such as the little garden located near the hospital’s kitchen. That was the last time I remember seeing her smile. She was so strong throughout her whole battle with Lung Cancer but even on that day, when I felt like we were truly connecting and enjoying each other’s company, I could tell she was suffering. The previous times that I visited her with my father, her tone when she told the two of us stories about our
family’s past, had clearly changed from the joyful tone we were used to hearing during our regular family reunions. Some of these stories would usually make us roar into laughter during our reunions but the setting was darker now.
The song’s tone was peaceful now. My violin’s sound was supposed to replicate that of a bird calling to another bird. The piano reacted to my violin’s call and the instruments had a little conversation. At this point, my mind was at ease. I felt this way when I was next to my grandmother’s deathbed. I had just gotten out of my first volleyball tryouts for High School. Me and my cousin were picked up and driven to our grandma’s apartment and had to say our final farewells since she had passed away earlier that day. She looked so peaceful and pure laying in her bed, as her son, daughters, and grandchildren knelt beside her and told her how much she meant to them. Then it was my turn so I knelt down and gave her a kiss on the forehead. I held her hand for a while. Her skin was very cold but also very soft. She seemed so fragile and I was afraid to get to close but the thought of her not having to suffer more put me at ease. I finally started talking to her, trying to hold back my tears and speak as clearly as I could. This is when I finally made my promise.
The roar of the audience as I held the final note of the piece, was so captivating. I looked up and could see my brother, my aunt, my friends, and my parents all sitting in the balcony on the left side of the auditorium, tears of joy in all of their eyes as they looked at me in awe after having accomplished something so great. I started tearing up a little myself as I walked backstage. I listened to rest of the concert and was so excited to see my family and friends, and ask them what they thought of my performance. My peers from orchestra ran up to me once the chorus had finished their performance. I received many positive remarks and my friends told me that they were crying through my whole performance. Once we walked outside the concert hall, I frantically started searching for my family. They were all packed in a corner near the buses: my aunt, my brother, and both my parents. I ran up to them and we all gathered together for a close group hug. That’s when my aunt told me something I would never forget.
She was in tears, not just because I played so beautifully, but also because I had finally fulfilled my promise. She remembered exactly what my final words to my grandmother were. I promised her that in my next four years of High School, I would accomplish something great; something that had a lot of meaning to me; something that not many people would have the opportunity of accomplishing. I don’t know if any of you believe in magic or not, but her words made me consider something quite extraordinary. My mind wasn’t consciously recalling all those memories I have just told you about. What really gave me all my courage and skill up on that stage was the fact that each of these moments directly contributed to this major accomplishment and that they all led directly to the relationship I had with my grandma. I didn’t just sign up to audition for the solo for just any reason. There was a little voice in my head that had encouraged me to do so. That little voice was with me for years as I was practicing my violin all these years. That voice was with me up until the moment I walked on that stage. I honestly hadn’t even remembered exactly what it was that I had promised my grandmother 3 years prior, but when my aunt finally reminded me what my true motivation for the solo was, I couldn’t even think of a proper way of responding to her. Her spirit definitely still lives on with me and every person who had the pleasure of knowing her but that day specifically, was when I felt like we had the greatest connection.