At twilight on June 24th, I drove myself to Thu Duc’s Zone 3 Makeshift Hospital, built as a temporary response to the pandemic. The roads were deserted, I got lost a few times, and had to repeatedly explain myself to law enforcement checkpoints along the way.
When I received the invitation from the Youth Union to hold a short performance to help relieve the stress of doctors and patients during the pandemic, a part of me was very worried as I have underlying medical conditions. I, however, understood that this was my responsibility as an artist: to use art as a tool to ease other’s mental burdens. Putting my worries aside, I accepted the invitation.
My stage was the outdoor common area of the makeshift hospital, renovated from an unused apartment complex. As the nighttime wind blew and the sun slowly set, each window and corridor lit up with neon lights — but outside of the hospital, stood under glimmering street lights, there were only a few people in protective medical gear. And myself.
Forty years of performing experience did not prepare me for that moment. My senses were heightened, and I could feel the tension and stress that exuded from the hospital buildings before me. I struggled to set up in what was soon to be my stage. It was too large, and I couldn’t help but feel the cold loneliness creep up my spine.
But the moment the first notes left my saxophone, albeit only part of my warm-up, patients and doctors cheered out from their windows, instantly warming my heart and dispelling all my nerves. And when all was ready, I felt settled in my one-of-a-kind stage — for it wasn’t filled with the deafening silence of before, but the atmosphere was now full of warm anticipation and support from my audience.
When I started playing the familiar tunes that I love, the anxiety in the back of my mind suddenly disappeared. In its place was now a sense of passion that sought to connect us all through love and the spirit of sharing music.
Tears welled up in my eyes, but I had to restrain my emotions to give the best performance to my eager audience. At this moment, though I was amidst a barren space, I did not feel alone. I felt like a warrior of light, vested with the weapon of music to repel the darkness. I thought, “We are here together, connecting with each other and with our home, our country, during these difficult times.”
After playing for only 20 minutes and four different songs under the light of the full moon, I felt a transformation of my inner energy as well as my surrounding aura. The sorrow and worries inside of me faded, and all that was left in my heart was joy, sympathy, and the warmth of love.
(This story is rewritten based on the experiences of Saxophonist Tran Manh Tuan)
Translated by Dieu Linh