Finding reconnection through music after years apart

by Julian Fefer, Editor in Chief

A few weeks ago, I picked myself up from the depths of my bed and walked downstairs to the living room, pausing only to briefly terrorize my hard-working sister.

After I felt adequately rejuvenated from her shouts of anger, I sat down to organize my cello music, and as I leafed through the Bach Suites, my mom came in, talking to someone on the phone.

“Mama, quieres que Juli te haga un concierto?” she laughed into the phone, asking my 91-year-old grandmother, who’s quarantined at home in Argentina, if she wanted to hear me play the cello.

I was surprised. My family had never been close with our extended family. Needless to say, I hadn’t spoken to my grandmother in years.

Once my grandmother said yes, I heard my mom tell me to “hacela sentir,” loosely translating to  “make her feel something,” through my playing.

I played, and, after I finished, she bathed me in compliments.

Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as that: she had forgotten my name (she thought my name was Sebastian, my brother’s middle name),  she couldn’t seem to figure out how to use her camera, so I was stuck looking at one side of her face the entire time (maybe she’s really just a snapchatter in disguise) and she accidentally (I hope) hung up twice.

Even though it was far from the ideal way to start a relationship, and, honestly, it came 16 years late, it made me wonder why I’d shied away from meeting her for so long.

In retrospect, I understand that I was scared to talk to her because I was worried that, after growing up telling myself that I didn’t need an extended family, meeting her would change my mind; I was anxious that getting to know her would open my eyes to everything I had missed in my childhood and everything I was still missing.

Although I can’t go back in time and will never know how her absence during my childhood affected me, going forward, I think getting to know her could help bring our family together — at least, I’d like to reassess my relationship with her. 

My mom’s words right before I started playing also resonated with me: “hacela sentir.” What a cryptic message to give a 16-year-old playing the cello for a 91-year-old woman.

In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense: the most profound relationships, at least in my life, have been those where I’ve connected and bonded with someone over a common experience, like struggling through a hard class, or winning a soccer tournament. My mom wanted to lay the foundations for a real relationship between me and my grandmother by having us enter a shared emotional space, a place where we could both feel the rises and the falls, tone and musical tension, of my playing.

Sharing a headspace with someone else creates the most profound relationships, as sharing a passion for the same thing grounds a relationship by providing a focus, a point of connection, so that two people can always return to the emotions they both felt during their shared experience. It creates a jumping-off point for relationships to develop. Developing common emotions, in this case through music, developed a more raw, deeper sense of connection between my grandmother and I than simply telling her about my life ever could have. This jumping-off point, the establishment of the relationship’s focus, kindled a bond that can extend past that sole experience.

I can infer that sharing my emotional experience (assuming I played well enough to “move” her emotionally) allowed my grandmother to understand how I was feeling while I was playing for her and better allowed me to understand her emotions listening to the music. 

My mom wanted me to make my grandmother feel the music because feelings and shared experiences form deeper connections that are essential in developing, profound relationships.

Communicating with my grandmother, through both words and music, opened my eyes to my irrational insecurities I held about meeting my extended family. Further, it shone light on the importance of shared emotions and “common ground” to develop connections, understandings and emotions.

As for the future, I don’t know where talking with my grandmother will lead our relationship. Perhaps she’ll start calling more often, or maybe she won’t, but I won’t forget how my mom told me to “hacela sentir,” and I’m not done fully processing the experience either.