Arturo Toscanini, born in Parma, Italy in 1867, was an Italian conductor. With an intense and brilliant mind, his renown earned him the deserved recognition and consideration as one of the greatest virtuoso conductors of the early part of the 20th century. One night, a reporter reached out to Toscanini, and asked if he would be able to visit him. “I’m busy,” replied Toscanini. Toscanni continued, “tonight, I am listening to one of my favorite symphonies through short wave radio.”
To the biographer, this was the perfect opportunity. Even to see Toscanini listen to a symphony was to see him in action. “Can I come and watch you listen to the symphony?” requested the biographer. “Yes,” confirmed Toscanini, “on one condition: you don’t say a word.” Sure enough, the reporter arrived, and carefully observed Toscanini listen to the symphony via the short-wave radio. As the symphony came to a close, the reporter spoke up. “Maestro, that was brilliant, no?” Toscanini looked back at him. “No, not really.” The reporter was confused, and asked, “What was the problem?” Toscanini responded, “there were supposed to be 15 violins, and I only heard 14 violins.” The reporter didn’t know how to respond. To the ordinary ear, picking up on such things was near impossible.
The next day, the reporter phoned the conductor overseas. “I must ask you a question,” said the reporter. “How many violinists played in last night’s symphony?” “We were supposed to have 15 violinists,” replied the conductor, “and only 14 showed up.” Shocked, the reporter returned to Toscanini, and confirmed the news. “How in the world,” he asked Toscanini, “sitting on a couch, thousands of miles away, listening on a radio, were you able to detect that one violin is missing?” Toscanini looked back at him. “That’s the difference between you and me. You are part of the audience; I am a conductor. I know each note. For you, a note here, a note there, doesn’t make a difference. For me, I knew that this symphony needed 15 violins, and as soon as I heard that some notes were missing, I knew that they were short one violinist.”
During these High Holidays, let us remember that each of us plays a role in making this world a better place and on our beautiful notes are essential in making this happen. May we be blessed to provide light, healing and sweetness in the New Year.
Rabbi Brian Glusman serves the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta and is the visiting rabbi at Shearith Israel Synagogue in Columbus, Ga.