The Sesame Street Video Which Inspired a Generation of Violinists

perlman_videoIn 1980, a one-minute video aired on Sesame Street.  A young girl cradling a violin dashes up some stairs onto a stage and sits in a folding chair. Then, world-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman carefully makes his way up the stairs with his crutches and lowers himself into another chair.

“Ugh, those steps,” he says. Then, he turns to the little girl. “You know, some things that are really easy for you are real hard for me.” He picks up his violin from a nearby chair and plays a pyrotechnical melody as if it’s the simplest thing in the world.

“Yeah, but some things are easy for you that are hard for me, ” the little girl says. She places her violin on her shoulder and performs J.S. Bach’s simple but lovely melody, “Gavotte in G Minor”.

“Nice,” Perlman says with a proud smile on his face.

Deceptively simple, right? But if you ask any Generation X/Y violinist, we all remember it. Here’s a perfect example. I’m a Suzuki violin teacher at the Music Institute of Chicago, and by my unofficial estimate, about 60% of our Suzuki faculty fall into Gens X/Y.  At one of our faculty meetings, somebody asked who had seen this video. Every single one of the aforementioned 60% could remember it vividly.

Here’s why it affected so many children so deeply. For those of us who already played the violin, it was amazing to see a kid just like us sharing the stage with the Itzhak Perlman. I always got excited not only because of Perlman (who my mom and I both loved), but also because the girl was performing a Suzuki Book 3 piece.

For those who didn’t know anything about the violin, it was the spark which inspired them to pick up an instrument. There was a child performing on a teeny tiny violin (who knew they even came that small?).  Even though she said that the violin was hard, she played with an obvious sense of joy. Plus, Perlman sounded so beautiful that it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to play the violin after hearing him.

But don’t just take my word for it. Bella Strings rock violinist Ashley Korak, Sphinx Quartet violinist Melissa White, and New Jersey violin teacher Nathan Thomas all cite Perlman’s appearance as their inspiration to play the violin. My favorite quote, however, comes from Mexican violinist Elana Urioste, who was recently featured on the cover of Symphony magazine.

“I saw Itzhak Perlman performing on the television show Sesame Street and was instantly captivated.  It wasn’t so much a question of what area of music I wanted to enter; I just knew that I wanted to play the instrument that I was seeing on the screen in front of me!”

So if you haven’t seen this video already, you can check it out below. And if you have, I hope you’ll enjoy this opportunity to take a trip down memory lane.

Photo credit: Sesame Street via YouTube

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