I always champion anything that will improve the lives of people with disabilities and put it on the front burner. – Itzhak Perlman
At its best, the Internet expands our horizons, introducing us to new interests and perspectives, forging connections and creating empathy.
The educational children’s series Sesame Street was doing all that decades earlier.
For many child—and perhaps adult—viewers, this excerpt presented their first significant encounter with classical musical and/or disability.
The little girl scampers up the steps to the stage as Perlman, who relies on crutches and a motorized scooter to get around, follows behind, heaving a sigh of relief as he lowers himself into his seat.
Already the point has been made that what is easy to the point of unconsciousness for some presents a challenge for others.
Then each takes a turn on their violin.
Perlman’s skills are, of course, unparalleled, and the young girl’s seem pretty exceptional, too, particularly to those of us who never managed to get the hang of an instrument. (She began lessons at 3, and told the Suzuki Association of the Americas that her Sesame Street appearance with Perlman was the “highlight of [her] professional career.”)
In the nearly 40 years since this episode first aired, public awareness of disability and accessibility has become more nuanced, a development Perlman discussed in a 2014 interview with the Wall Street Journal, below.
Having resented the way early features about him invariably showcased his disability, he found that he missed the opportunity to advocate for others when mentions dropped off.
Transparency coupled with celebrity provides him with a mighty platform. Here he is speaking in the East Room of the White House in 2015, on the day that President Obama honored him with the Medal of Freedom:
And his collaborations with Sesame Street have continued throughout the decades, including performances of “You Can Clean Almost Anything” (to the tune of Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin), “Put Down the Duckie,” Pagliacci‘s Vesti la giubba (backing up Placido Flamingo), and Beethoven’s Minuet in G, below.
Read more of Perlman’s thoughts on disability, and enroll in his Master Class here.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates Cape-Coddities by Roger Livingston Scaife (1920). Follow her @AyunHalliday.