The book the "Soloist" was a book that my son's fiancé had to read for a college class. She didn't think it would be very interesting. I am so glad I read it. I read the back cover and it caught my attention so I decided to read it as well.
This story opened my eyes to what some of the homeless people go through and how hard that life is. It showed that some of them don't just choose to live like this but are forced to due to the situation they may be in. We tend to think that a homeless person is a low life, drunk or drug addict that has chosen this life. Wrong, there are those that have been very successful in life and something just goes wrong in their minds and they have some sort of a mental breakdown and end up with no where to go except the streets.
Here is the story of one such man who studied at the most acclaimed music school in the entire world with a promising career as a musician with any symphony or orchestra or philharmonic in the country. This is told by Steve Lopez, an LA Times columnist for the California section of their Metro section. The book is written in three parts taking place in 2005-2006. Part One gives us details on his chance encounter with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, an African American homeless street violinist in Downtown LA. By utilizing his investigative skills as a journalist, thereby drawing the reader in and keeping you hooked with this fascinating tale. Lopez carefully approached Nathaniel with his questions on his two stringed violin, his classical musicianship, and ultimately the time he studied at Julliard playing the double bass and later being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He could and most likely would have become a very well know musician if he hadn't had a mental disability.
Part one - The journalist who is trying to write about Nathaniel finds out that he has studied under some very highly respected musicians over the years. Harry Barnoff at the Cleveland Music School Settlement. We also discover that he is given some opportunities for a home but has issues accepting the apartment living. Plans are made to help him feel more comfortable. To close out Part One, both Lopez and Ayers are invited to attend a rehearsal of the LA Philharmonic at the Disney Hall, the crowned glory on the hill of downtown Los Angeles. They are rehearsing Beethoven's Third Symphony. Ayers' is in his element talking to the staff and musicians. Many stated they read about him in the newspaper. Beethoven is an inspiration to Nathaniel. He would always go to the Beethoven statue at Pershing Square. That was where Steve Lopez first noticed Nathaniel playing the violin.
Part two - A man named Peter Snyder calls and offers to give him lessons. We find out in greater detail how Nathaniel got involved with music and was introduced to playing his beloved double bass during his childhood and teen years in Cleveland, especially his mentor from the Cleveland Orchestra, Harry Barnoff, also a Julliard Alum. This inspired Nathaniel to study at Julliard too.In another chapter Gary Karr, a legend among bass players and one of its few soloists, was one of Nathaniel's teachers at Julliard. He described his class sessions with him as having great promise, but little discipline. Karr noticed many symptoms of the mental disability coming from Nathaniel and tried to report it at Julliard. They brushed him off saying it was a racially motivated angry attitude. Steve Lopez wants more information on Nathaniel so he reaches out to family. After the New Year on Nathaniel's birthday, Jan 31st, in 2006 is a major breakthrough for him and all the others involved with his journey. Nathaniel decides to spend the night in his apartment at the Lamp after months of trying to get him to make it his home. The type of care needed for Nathaniel was a matter of time and nurturing, not the traditional treatment of confinement, drugs, doctors, etc.
Part Three - Lopez invites Nathaniel to meet his family for an Easter Day Brunch. Nathaniel has spent every night in his apartment since late January. Nathaniel finds out that Steve is writing about him and asks Lopez if he can see all of the columns that have appeared about him. Lopez agrees to give it to him just days before . Nathaniel is upset by what has been written about him in the columns, lashing out verbally at Lopez by saying's he's spreading lies, going to commit him, etc.
The last remaining chapters are truly moving. I feel there should be a bit of suspense not to reveal their content. However, I will say there is a beautiful reunion with a former classmate of Nathaniel's from Julliard who is a mega superstar in the world of classical music. Another surprise awaits Nathaniel at the very end as well. Finally, this book takes you on a journey inside the minds of the two main characters. You get a real education in classical music, the mental health community at large, and LA's Skid Row, which is the largest in the United States.
This story opened my eyes to what some of the homeless people go through and how hard that life is. It showed that some of them don't just choose to live like this but are forced to due to the situation they may be in. We tend to think that a homeless person is a low life, drunk or drug addict that has chosen this life. Wrong, there are those that have been very successful in life and something just goes wrong in their minds and they have some sort of a mental breakdown and end up with no where to go except the streets. It will open your eyes and touch your heart once you start reading this paperback. Now the book has been made into a film. I intend to see the film, but the book is oftentimes better. Many people who love classical music, classical music aficionados, or musicians themselves will definitely have a greater appreciation and understanding regarding Nathaniel Ayers. I never wanted the book to end. If you get the chance pick it up and enjoy.