Note: This article was selected as a finalist for The Norman E. Alexander Award for Excellence in Jewish Student Writing Contest. About 100 high school contestants from around the country answered the following question: “Choose a living or deceased person and write about his or her legacy in any musical specialty. Why are his or her accomplishments meaningful to you?” The contest is sponsored by the Jewish-American Hall of Fame and The Jewish Week Media Group.
Every Monday for the past 10 years I have had a piano lesson. My teacher, Marina, is a Russian immigrant who came to the United States as a teenager without knowing a single word of English. Although we are from different generations, had different childhoods and do not even share the same first language, we have always connected. We connect with each over the music we create together.
Recently, Marina gave me a new piece to play by Robert Schumann, a German composer. She explained to me that the composition was supposed to be reminiscent of his childhood memories. As she was flipping through the pages, she stopped at the end; the title “Reverie” drew her attention. I wondered what had happened. She then proceeded to take out her phone and look up Vladimir Horowitz’s concert in which he played the piece.
Marina then explained to me the hardship which Horowitz faced. Although Horowitz was born in Russia and gained fame as a notable composer, the Soviet Union was repressive and limited Horowitz tremendously. In 1925, Horowitz decided to move to America, a country that greeted him with open arms and embraced his creative spirit.
When Marina and I were listening to “Reverie,” performed by Horowitz, it was completely silent. The video panned over toward the audience where Russians sat awestruck. Some were even brought to tears. I glanced over to my teacher and she began crying too. This woman, who I had idolized my whole life—my teacher and mentor, finally let down her walls. As we embraced, Marina explained to me how important it was that she got to America, a land where she could truly express herself freely. I finally understood. Despite our disparate pasts, a sense of creative freedom allowed for us to connect.
In 1986, Horowitz decided to come home to Russia. To conclude his concert, he performed the song “Reverie.” His rich projection of each note gave the piece a new life and he was finally able to perform creatively in his homeland. In doing so, Horowitz not only brought creative freedom to the Soviet Union, but he unified two nations. He emerged as a gifted pianist and an ambassador for peace.
However, Horowitz did not just connect two countries, he also united two people. If I had never listened to his performance, perhaps I would never even begin to fathom the struggles Marina faced. I am blessed to be born in a country with freedom of expression, and without listening to Horowitz’s story, I may have never truly understood that.
Hannah Safer-Brickman is a rising senior at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles.