“Probably a lot of you know the story of the two salesmen who went down to Africa in the 1900s. They were sent down to find if there was any opportunity for selling shoes, and they wrote telegrams back to Manchester. And one of them wrote, “Situation hopeless. Stop. They don’t wear shoes.” And the other one wrote, “Glorious opportunity. They don’t have any shoes yet.“
You see, the first time, he was playing with an impulse on every note. (Piano) And the second, with an impulse every other note. (Piano) You can see it by looking at my head. (Laughter) The nine-year-old put an impulse on every four notes. (Piano) And the 10-year-old, on every eight notes. (Piano) And the 11-year-old, one impulse on the whole phrase. (Piano)
I don’t know how we got into this position. (Laughter) I didn’t say, “I’m going to move my shoulder over, move my body.” No, the music pushed me over, which is why I call it one-buttock playing. There was a gasp in the audience when they heard the difference. And then I got a letter from this gentleman. He said, “I was so moved. I went back and I transformed my entire company into a one-buttock company.
If your mother calls on the miserable telephone, she calls and says, “Hello,” you not only know who it is, you know what mood she’s in. You have a fantastic ear. Everybody has a fantastic ear. So nobody is tone-deaf.
It doesn’t work for me to go on with this thing, with such a wide gulf between those who understand, love and [are] passionate about classical music, and those who have no relationship to it at all. The tone-deaf people, they’re no longer here. But even between those three categories, it’s too wide a gulf. So I’m not going to go on until every single person in this room, downstairs and in Aspen, and everybody else looking, will come to love and understand classical music. So that’s what we’re going to do.
Now, you notice that there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that this is going to work if you look at my face, right? It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said, “I have a dream. Of course, I’m not sure they’ll be up to it.”
Now, Chopin didn’t want to reach the E there, because it would have been over too soon, like Hamlet. Do you remember Hamlet? Act one, scene three, he finds out that his uncle killed his father. You remember, he keeps on going up to his uncle and almost killing him. And then he backs away, and he goes up to him again and almost kills him. And the critics, all of whom are sitting in the back row there, they have to have an opinion, so they say, “Hamlet is a procrastinator.” (Laughter) Or they say, “Hamlet has an Oedipus complex.” No, otherwise the play would be over, stupid.
And I’ve one last request before I play this piece all the way through. Would you think of somebody who you adore, who’s no longer there? A beloved grandmother, a lover — somebody in your life who you love with all your heart, but that person is no longer with you. Bring that person into your mind, and at the same time follow the line all the way from B to E, and you’ll hear everything that Chopin had to say.
Because we all know where home is.
“Why am I clapping?” And one of the little kids said, “Because we were listening.”
“My brother was shot last year and I didn’t cry for him. But last night, when you played that piece, he was the one I was thinking about. And I felt the tears streaming down my face. And you know, it felt really good to cry for my brother.” So I made up my mind at that moment that classical music is for everybody. Everybody.
Now, how would you walk — because you know, my profession, the music profession doesn’t see it that way. They say three percent of the population likes classical music. If only we could move it to four percent, our problems would be over. I say, “How would you walk? How would you talk? How would you be? If you thought, three percent of the population likes classical music, if only we could move it to four percent. How would you walk? How would you talk? How would you be? If you thought, everybody loves classical music — they just haven’t found out about it yet.” (Laughter) See, these are totally different worlds.
The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people.
You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it. And this is the question: who am I being, that my players’ eyes are not shining? We can do that with our children, too. Who am I being, that my children’s eyes are not shining? That’s a totally different world.
“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.” Now, can we do that? No. And we’ll make ourselves wrong and others wrong. But it is a possibility to live into. Thank you. (Applause) Shining eyes, shining eyes. Thank you, thank you.”