on being a storyteller

I’m a sucker for cellists. I wonder if I would have chosen to learn the cello instead of the violin if I had the option. Maybe I would have. But I think having that distance to breathe in the music made by another musician allows me to appreciate the artistic creation better; sometimes we see our lover in a different light when they are in their element, instead of in our consuming embrace.

Last spring I went to a concert featuring several soloists, one of them a cellist. I actually went because I knew the violinist that was part of a duet that was also featured in the concert. I remember randomly sitting next to a cluster of hipsters and feeling moderately out of place. I had been in orchestras in high school and undergrad, so I felt I should be on stage in the mass of black and white—the men donning tuxedos and looking like constipated penguins—instead of in the audience.

The auditorium darkened and the cellist entered, took his seat, tuned his cello. Then a pause. A silent prologue: the palpable awareness of being emotionally naked in front of one’s audience.  Inhale. The first few notes flowed from his hands, asking the audience for permission: the permission to share oneself. Trepidation. Bashful eagerness. May I share this with you? This part of me?

Then he took hold of my soul and took flight. Achingly, breathlessly. He and the cello and the music born from the two.

And I don’t remember breathing until the end.

I’m listening to Jacqueline du Pré while whittling away at my homework. Yes, we have school in summer. Yes, I agree, it’s no fun being a graduate student. As my brain meanders between skin pathogens and Dvorak, it makes me sad listening to the beautiful stories that this woman is telling through her fingers. Appendages that eventually failed and robbed her of her voice through her instrument. Jacqueline du Pré died in 1987 as complications from multiple sclerosis, after permanently retiring from performance in 1973.

When I heard of Gabriel García Márquez’s passing a few weeks ago there was a tinge of sorrow that the world is a bit poorer in losing a masterful storyteller. And I’m thankful that the stories of Jacqueline du Pré and Márquez remain, through decibels or text, and in a way, their stories continue, each time someone opens to the first lines of One Hundred Years of Solitude or inhale the first notes of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor seeping from du Pré’s hands and her Davydov Stradivarius. And I would like to believe that, in one way or another, we can still choose to be storytellers. At a recent lecture hosted by our program, a Duke PT alumna spoke of being a thoughtful practitioner, an active listener of our patients’ stories, and a mindful sharer of our own stories.

I think this is why, despite the gigantic imbalance of science-to-humanities ratio that is the existence of a physical therapist student, I still need music: I still need to be a storyteller. When I allow music to speak through me, I am reminded of the disclosed fibers of myself, all of the granules that I keep carefully wrapped up. Music seeks them out, and awakens that unspeakable joy and longing, because sometimes words are trite, and our nuclei of humanity need a wordless voice. Vocalise.