“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” -St. Francis of Assisi

I attended the Oregon Symphony’s annual Youth Artist’s Debut, where nine of the most talented child prodigies in Oregon display their truly unbelievable gifts of music and are backed up by the symphony. The program read like a list of distinguished honors, interrupted by the very occasional, “Likes to hang out with friends.” Witnessing the level of pure talent mixed with a musical sensibility way beyond their adolescent years, the performances were stunning. Imagine a little 11-year-old boy who looks like he should be waiting for the school bus, open his mouth and sing a perfect Italian aria…

I traveled to see the performance of a boy I have known since kindergarten. Josh is a close friend of my son and I have had the chance to know him over the last few years, as they have become young men. Thoughtful about girls, peer pressure and spirituality, our conversations have always been moving and provocative. I have always known about his gift with the violin, but lately had been talking about his future in music or medicine as he looks at college choices.

Not long ago on a visit at my house, the boys were all hanging out in the soft blue lighting in my son’s room. All the boys were wrapped in Josh’s prayer shawl that one of his teachers had given him that belonged to a fallen Buddhist monk. My younger son handed him his ¾ size violin and Josh started to play. The emotion that sang from the violin was like a prayer and everyone in the room felt it. Tears welled up for me. I told Josh that night, whatever he chose to do about school, that he should always have his violin nearby because it is how God speaks through him.

Thinking of him today on my way up to Portland for the concert, I heard a clear message. I called him to tell him what I had heard: There was no way that he could mess up this night, a night that would stay with him forever, and that all he had to do was turn inward, that he was already an instrument that God knew how to play. The music was the prayer.. Watching his very personal interpretation of a Prokofiev concerto went way beyond the miracle of his prodigy abilities. It was the voice of peace coming through him.

He was one of the last to perform, and as the tension mounted I was told that before he went out to perform, he wrapped himself in the shawl, listened to a rap song by the Notorious B.I.G and then played his heart out.

I have only ever known one prodigy among the very many talented kids I have seen grow up over the years. The gifts that children are born with are cultivated through enormous amounts of love and attention. No child ends up a prodigy on their own; his or her parents and teachers help them to lift it out of their hearts every day, for hours a day. Arriving on the stage of the Oregon’s symphony hall, prepared to be an instrument, a prayer for the rest of us is an act of heroism. I feel grateful to bear witness and hold the memory.

 

Way to go Josh. You are the man.