The Violinist of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles












It was a glorious day outside of Paris.

Serpentine lines of people zigzagged their way around a cobblestone courtyard under the watchful gaze of gilded fences. A sea of people and an hour more of waiting under the hot sun. Between heavy sighs and questions of how much longer, tentative notes from a violin floated through the air like a dream.

Having been in France for nearly a month, we had strolled villages and chateaus by the dozens. It was not uncommon for me to imagine music nearly everywhere we went. France has a kind of magic about it. But this was different. A quick glance at my family and their searching eyes told me what I had hoped. This music transcended my imagination. It was real.

And then it stopped. A mystery had been birthed. Murmurs in half a dozen different languages began. Hushed voices. Seeking eyes. The shrug of shoulders. We had all heard it. But where had it come from?

And then, a small person took a step out of line.

With one hand clutching a compact but perfect violin and bow, and the other grasping the hand of a man, a little girl took another step and froze. Not distracted by the grandeur around her, she stared at the cobblestones beneath her feet. She looked at no one and everyone looked at her.

The man with her, most likely her father, tried to pull them both further into the middle of the sea of people but she would not budge. A drama was unfolding, slight and unassuming against the magnificence of a French palace.

Again, the father nudged his daughter, bidding her to step forward and play. He leaned down and whispered in her ear. With eyes focused on the ground, she shook her head. He tried once more. A small pull on her hand met only refusal. In perhaps a final ditch effort, the man squatted down until he was able to coax her eyes up to his own. He pulled her small hand to his chest and the words he chose kept her attention and ours. We couldn’t hear his voice, but we pleaded along with him, in silent anticipation.

She stared again at the stones under her bright blue sneakers and slowly nodded her head.

The man stood, still holding tight to the little hand. She raised her face to look at him. That was his cue. For several feet, she matched him step for step, watching his face until he planted his feet and nodded decisively. She took a deep breath, dropped her hand from his, and brought the small wooden instrument under her chin.

When she looked ready, he gave her one last nod. She closed her eyes and began to move the miniature bow over the strings.

It only took one note and the sea of people stopped breathing. It was as if she needed the extra oxygen somehow and we gladly gave it to her. Our breath was the fare required. We paid it and she transported us to another place.

She couldn’t have been more than five. Maybe six. But as she played, a mystery unfolded before us. Cameras and video devices came out. This miniature maestro had captured our attention and our hearts.

Her father took a step back, but this time, she didn’t notice. She kept her eyes closed and played the undersized violin with all of her little body and soul.

The violinist of Versailles.

She drug her bow slowly across the strings for the final note. It is curious, that with only twelve notes, and having heard them all a thousand times in different ways and in different combinations, there are still notes that draw tears from my eyes.

Oceans and borders had been crossed by thousands of people in order to stand in the courtyard of Versailles. A place where masters of art and music have walked for centuries. Two small feet stood and spoke to us in the universal language of music. Transfixed, grateful, dumbfounded we responded and gave her what we had. Our sincere approval. Before she could bring her bow back to her side or even open her eyes, the sea of people erupted in applause.

Her eyes opened in surprise. She had not been playing for us. She had played in spite of us.

Frantically, she searched for her father. He quickly crouched next to her once more, pulled her to his chest, and wrapped his arms around her. She was a little girl again hiding in her father’s embrace. It was obvious that she does not yet see or understand her artistry or brilliance. But maybe that was also part of the gift.

Under the glimmer of the Palace of Versailles, the little violinist gave us a performance that we could never forget. In stark contrast to the grandeur and opulence, she performed not for the homage of man, but for the love of an instrument.

The violinist of Versailles

The Violinist of Versailles

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3 Comments on "The Violinist of Versailles"

  1. Janet Hanson
    10/04/2014 at 8:41 am Permalink

    Oh that I may close my eyes and play the music without fear, as she had the courage to do! Thank you, Rebecca, you planted a beautiful image in my mind!

  2. Lin Wilder
    10/04/2014 at 9:13 am Permalink

    I LOVE this—exquisite writing–thank you.

  3. Teddi Deppner
    10/04/2014 at 11:32 am Permalink

    What a beautiful moment! How amazing you can capture in words a moment of audible magic in a historical place, and that my mind can take those words and transform them into vicarious memory. Thank you, Rebecca!

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