Itzhak Perlman Appears on Sesame Street and Poignantly Shows Kids How to Play the Violin and Push Through Life’s Limits (1981)

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.

Wit­ness this brief clip from 1981, star­ring vio­lin vir­tu­oso Itzhak Perl­man and a six-year-old stu­dent from the Man­hat­tan School of Music.

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 decadesinclud­ing 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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Great Vio­lin­ists Play­ing as Kids: Itzhak Perl­man, Anne-Sophie Mut­ter, & More

Philip Glass Com­pos­es Music for a Sesame Street Ani­ma­tion (1979)

See Ste­vie Won­der Play “Super­sti­tion” and Ban­ter with Grover on Sesame Street in 1973

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.

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