When I started the concert challenge with Dr A. N. in September I thought it would turn out to be a little sweet addition to my life. Like an extra motivation to check the concert programs and keep an eye on my favourite musicians.

Wrong answer.

Where this challenge has led me and how it has impacted my life, I could have never anticipated. It has turned out to affect my life in much deeper and wider ways than I thought. Here's how.

First, it has soothed my mind in a way I didn't expect. Often when I'm in a concert hall, Great Peace descens, and sometimes also Great Joy. There is something that makes me so joyful and I sit there, grinning from ear to ear, not even quite sure what I'm happy about or why. And on some very rare occasions it also has a reverse effect. Like this past Sunday. On Sunday night I was in Estonian Concert Hall, listening to the Nordic Symphony Orchestra's 20th anniversary gala concert. The orchestra was superb, the soloists (with whom they had worked together over these two decades) absolutely amazing. The trumpetist Sergei Nakariakov did with his trumpet what I thought was humanly impossible. Mihkel Poll to whose concerts I've been to quite often lately (and whose name, Dr A. N. is sure, will be tattooed on my neck before the concert challenge is over hahaha!) played Rachmaninov in a way that took my breath away. And the young Russian, Sergei Dogadin, created magic when playing Tchaikovsky's violin concert. And in the very end there were two encores which, obviously, were not on the program. So there was no way I could have put myself ready for Edward Elgar's Nimrod. For some reason I have always thought that this is how things will sound like when Jesus returns. A very naive thought, I know. But they played Nimrod and suddenly something broke inside me and I wept like a child. I had had a rather tough weekend, with some conversations I wish I didn't have. I can't say much about them but if there are two things I absolutely hate then it's hearing my friend's name and the word 'cancer' in the same sentence, and hurting someone I deeply care about. Well, both happened last weekend and I was rather shaken by it. So the music just made the emotion come out with such a force I didn't think was possible. But it was. After I had got back home, I was still crying, crying for my friends and for myself, and for the terrible longing for Jesus, and for the music.

But this is only one side of it. Something else has happened - which, honestly, I had no way of knowing could happen. It was the day after I came back from Christmas at my dad's that I cut my long and pretty fingernails, took out my violin from under my bed, and started practising again. I had thought I was so done with this. But something has inspired me to take it up again. The beginning, let's be honest, has been painful, in every sense of this word. First, it has hurt in a very direct physical sense. My fingers are not used to the strings any more and after first two days I had a blister on my finger tip and I could not practise for more than half an hour because of the pain. I've grown really weak. And secondly, I found in my old music folder two pieces that I can manage to play. Vivaldi's concerto in A minor and Telemann's Fantasy for solo violin. They're decent pieces, it's just that the first one I played in the second grade and the other one in the fourth grade. I know it is very unusual for a nine year old or an eleven year old child to play them but I did. And now, twenty years later, I'm back to them because I can't play anything more complicated, and it kind of hurts one's pride, let's be honest. But it's alright, it's good to eat some humble pie and to start from the second grade again. I just need to keep on going.

And even that is not all there is. Now I've taken to my head I need to study singing too. I took classical singing classes for a year before I went to Newbold and it was an amazing experience. Now I want to do it again. So I've written to the Music Academy and of course you can just take pretty much any classes from there. The price, goodness, is eye-watering but fortunately or unfortunately I don't have anyone at home who would shake their head and tell me - oh, come on, we're not going to spend money on that, are we?! So. I'm spending my money on it. I'm planning to take 10 classes to begin with, and am just waiting for the final confirmation from the Academy. Oh, how very exciting!

Who on earth could have believed something like this could happen? It's all quite amazing. And it reminds me that all the stuff I want to do, I need to do now. Because one day my name could be in the same sentence with the word 'cancer' (given my family history, it's more than probable) and even if it doesn't, sooner or later I will run out of time anyway. And that's why I want to do as much as I can now.

Sorry for the morbid ending. I didn't mean it. :)

Here's Tchaikovsky's violin concert. I mean, just listen to it!

I have the most photogenic violin!


I finished last year’s 40th book yesterday at 8.30 p.m. Phew, that was close!

I really like this New Year’s Eve reading thing. Last night was wonderful, I took a long walk in the Old Town, I had a lovely dinner, finished my book, sent a number of messages, talked to my dad, had a long conversation with God, went to bed before 11 p.m., missed all the gatherings and parties and invitations, missed the new year and fireworks, and felt wonderfully old and cosy. I just might be the nerdiest person in the world.

Now, books. When I try to come up with my Top 5, the implication is that I want to bring out the most surprising ones. Because there are some authors who are so much a part of my life that I don’t feel like putting them on that Top 5 pedestal, not because they are poor authors but because their goodness is nothing new & surprising to me. EGW and Frederick Buechner are the ones I have in mind in particular. So, bearing that in mind, here is my list:

1. Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes. I’m more used to read about crippling poverty than enormous wealth. This book offers a unique glimpse into the world and lives of one of the richest family of the 19th century Europe, the Ephrussi family. It is a surreal feeling to read about palaces in Paris and Vienna, about numerous paintings by French impressionists on your walls, about yearly vacations in different European resorts, and yes, also about the cruelty of fate as the Nazis took over Austria and Ephrussis, like many other wealthy Jews, lost absolutely everything. The author describes his trip to Vienna and to the palace where his grandmother was born but which is now owned by the state. And I was waiting for him to start complaining any moment about their lost fortune, but he never did and I’m eternally grateful to him because that would have certainly ruined the book. He talks about this injustice with a bit of melancholy and it’s very touching. It’s a beautiful book from cover to cover, made of grand history and personal tragedies, lost fortunes but also of life and hope that springs up even from the worst of circumstances. If there’s one book I’d recommend, that’s the one.

2. Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Family Moskat. They say it’s one of the best descriptions of Jewish life, and I believe them. It’s a sweeping family history of Warsaw Jews from the beginning of the 20th century until 1939. I knew it was fiction, but the description of their last Yom Kippur celebrations with Hitler already behind the borders was still heartbreaking. I couldn’t put that book down.

3. Nuha al-Radi, Baghdad Diaries 1991-2002. It is a different thing to read something from a war correspondent (like Asne Seierstad who’s book on Iraqi war I also read last year) compared to a native who perceives war and its injustice in a completely different way. Seierstad’s book got on my nerves because she was always hunting for stories – which, of course, is what a journalist in such a situation is ought to do. But to read a local’s diary... it’s different. It hits you in a different way. Al-Radi was a member of a wealthy family of Iraqi intellectuals and the little details about the war she mentions are as surprising as they are touching. She tells about how the power plants would be the first things to be hit in the air raids and how they organised big dinner orgies because all the food in their freezers started melting as soon as the electricity was gone. She tells about birds who lost their mind when the bombing hit Baghdad and who started to fly upside down (I had never heard this before). And she tells about the powerlessness and anger when you see life being bombed out of your country because there are great evils fighting in this world and you, an ordinary citizen, happen to get caught in the middle of this fight. It’s a tough book. But it’s honest. If I could, I would make every American read it.

4. Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air. Kalanithi was an acclaimed brain surgeon who was used to see death and tragedy, human resilience and hope from a doctor’s perspective. And then one day he didn't feel very good. And then a fourth stage cancer was discovered, and in one day he went from a brilliant doc to a dying patient. He recorded his story, and writing that book was the last thing he did. His wife wrote the end of the book after he had passed away in 2015. It’s a strange reading, so many things rang the bell because I too have seen someone die of cancer. I did a fair share of crying when I read this book, and it was therapeutic. I’m not sure I would recommend this book to anyone but it was important for me to read it.

5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun. It’s embarrassing how ignorant I am when it comes to African and Asian history. I mean, whole wars and genocides have taken place without me knowing anything about them, also inventions and progress and achievements which I am not familiar with. So that book was one of my attempts to educate myself (last year I also read Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Jung Chang, Shusaku Endo etc). It’s a story of a family who got caught up in the civil war in 1960s Nigeria. A gripping read.

Of course, I didn’t read only about death and destruction. There were many lighter books as well - history, theology, travel books, fiction etc. But those five touched me in a unique way.

So here’s to 2018 and to all the books whch will find their way to me this year. Happy new reading year!