Schumann’s simple creed has become the mission of a group of local musicians and musical activists known as Street Symphony: the brainchild of LA Philharmonic violinist Vijay Gupta, who tells me it grew out of a relationship he had with Nathaniel Ayers—the Juilliard-trained musician, whose battles with schizophrenia had left him homeless, living on Skid Row. Ayers’ story was chronicled in columns in the LA Times by Steve Lopez, which became the book and eventually the movie, The Soloist.
VG: “Alongside a number of LA Phil I became one of Nathaniel’s friends. First his friend, and then he started asking for violin lessons from me. So, the beginning was him trudging up to Walt Disney Concert Hall and us working together in a practice room. And this is an event that really opened my life and opened my world because I witnessed Nathaniel have a manic episode in a practice room at Walt Disney Concert hall holding a violin. The only thing we had in common at that moment was that I was also holding a violin. So, we started to make music together. I started to play for him and he started to play back to me; and it was the beginning of this relationship that we had. Eventually, I started to visit Nathaniel on Skid Row and I started to go to him [for our lessons]. Along with the geography of the lessons changing, I think the role of the mentors actually changed. Because, I started to learn a lot from Nathaniel. I started to learn about Skid Row, how horrifying it is, how real it is, and how close it is. It was a place where words failed. And yet, it was in this place, that Nathaniel showed me that he could still make music with me, I could still make music with him, and we could still communicate in the same way we did at Walt Disney Concert Hall. And that music was this incredible language that transcends barriers and breaks barriers. It doesn’t matter where it’s placed, if it’s within the context of human empathy.” Continue reading