This I Believe

Charity - Los Angeles, California
Entered on November 1, 2006

I am a patron of the arts. I believe the experience of art is a necessary part of life. It is a belief seeded in how I grew up, but is especially rooted in one moment I had at thirteen.

At the time, my parents were struggling as Vietnamese refugees trying to make it in America. My father worked as a journeyman for a construction company, working when needed and only getting paid if he worked. My mother was employed in sewing factories, making three to five cents per sleeve.

Given my family income, appreciating arts and culture wasn’t exactly at the forefront of my parents’ concerns. The beginning of my love of literature and music is almost a fluke – I had to rely on free entertainment and it came most easily in books from the library and music from the radio. The eclectic nature of my music tastes reflects the variety radio offers, a medley of oldies, country, show tunes, Top 40 hits, and classical music.

My love of classical music specifically originates in wanting piano lessons when I was seven. Because we couldn’t afford them, I sought out the piano in the only way I could, by listening to piano concertos on classical music stations. The pursuit of this one sound led me to an entire landscape of others – of orchestras, the voices of opera and choral music.

When I was thirteen, my favorite classical piece was from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – the Allegro Non Molto of “Winter”. The sound of its violins still captivates me today – even if most people recognize it as the theme from the Zales’ Diamond commercials.

My appreciation of art and culture, however, was not a journey I crafted by myself and dumb luck. The gifted and talented program of my middle school assisted in making art a foundation in my life. Through its projects, I grew to appreciate visual arts, Shakespeare, and theatre. When I was thirteen, this program sponsored my first trip to a concert hall, to my first music event.

I remember this buzz of excitement from most of us. Many were like me, who wouldn’t have had the means to be there otherwise. Being there was overwhelming enough, and then the music started to play.

That night the Los Angeles Philharmonic played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

When the swell of violins began in Winter, I felt alive, my soul seemed to scream, “You exist! You’re existing in this moment!” I had heard it countless times from my living room stereo, but never like this – never in the instant where it actually lived, where it was being played on instruments by musicians, right before me.

In that moment I recognized the value of art in my life, felt its beauty and color stirring my soul. It is a feeling that consistently comes back to me as a patron of the arts. Without art in my life, I can’t help but believe I would feel a little less alive.