Lukas Nel

Friendship. The word has a three-dimensional meaning. Girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend? “Friends,” the television phenomenon, featuring Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Joey and Monica? 

But what does friendship really mean? According to Merriam-Webster, friendship is defined as the state of being friends; friendly relation, or attachment, to a person, or between persons; affection arising from mutual esteem and goodwill; friendliness; amity.

But what the dictionary won’t tell you is that true friendship withstands not only time, but great distance, and most importantly, it remains unconditional.

I met Jessica (name changed for anonymity) at a music festival, in our home state of Massachusetts, when we were 5 years old. She wore a light green dress, and her hair was in a bowl cut. We were placed on the same stand in a violin ensemble, and we were the youngest members of the group that year. We became friends right away, playing in string trios together and talking for hours, performing with the orchestra at Cape Cod, going on outings foodies would only dream of. We swam in the lake. We shared many stories about our dogs and their devilish behaviors. And of course, I taught her a little bit of Russian. The countless hugs and laughs and tears created a mutual trust and bond that has remained between us ever since. Fifteen years later, we are still best friends, through thick and thin, through sickness and in health, through distance — she moved to Florida for several years, and then returned to Boston to complete her undergraduate degree at Harvard — and of course, through time.

One particular moment of our friendship stands out in my mind. I was at the Perlman Music Program (PMP) Sarasota Winter Residency in Florida when I was 13 years old. The day before, I had performed in a student recital in Sarasota. Jessica lived in Jacksonville, which is a five-hour drive away. Not only did she drive to Sarasota to make that one 10 minute performance, but she and her family stayed for extra hours just so we could hang out in person and catch up with one another, taking some much-needed photos.

The next day, PMP took everyone to Busch Gardens in Tampa. At PMP, there is a very strict policy that students do not stray from the group unless special arrangements are made. Jessica’s mother spent all night emailing the dean of PMP to arrange a day for Jessica and I to spend time together at the amusement park. 


Once again, Jessica and her family drove five hours to Tampa, just so we could spend an entire day together. But what was really special about that day was that it was my first time going on a rollercoaster. As terrified as I was, we all went on it, and she held my hand throughout the entire ride. In the photo of the climax of the ride — a photo I still hold in my violin case and travel with — Jessica is smiling beside her sister, with her thumb up. I am gripping the seat belt as tight as I can, eyes closed, mouth open, sweaty hand clamping onto Jessica’s. After the ride, out of panic, I started crying. I couldn’t believe that we had survived the fast drops and the terrifying heights of the “Cheetah Hunt.” In the midst of my shock, Jessica hugged me and whispered, “This is how I feel every time I see you perform. I know you’ll make it, but my stomach feels the same excitement and shock as you feel now.”

I had never thought of performing or the experience of watching a performance in that way. As a performer, you have to light up on stage. When the moment comes, it’s now or never in the context of the performance, and you must channel all your passion, love and joy for the music and life into the moment. Music, after all, is that reflection of life.

My friendship with Jessica still remains strong, and we talk about once a week, as we are still in different locations. The trust, respect, curiosity and unconditional love we have towards one another is one of the most meaningful relationships in my life, and it is a friendship I cherish and feel gratitude for, every day of our 15 years of friendship.

This friendship travels with me everywhere I go, as does that moment on the rollercoaster. I am constantly reminded that being an artist is also being a human being. One’s art cannot be greater or lesser than one is as a human being. My friendship with Jessica reminds me of the power of human connection and an authentic respect and appreciation between two people that I carry with me to all my artistic collaborations and performances.

Ilana Zaks |