Violinist Has the World on 2 Strings

"He once sent me a card saying he would give his left hand for me," Barnoff said.

I got hold of Nathaniel's sister, Jennifer Ayers-Moore, at her home in Fayetteville, Ga. She was relieved to hear that her older brother is OK but disturbed to know he's on the streets -- again.

He was never the same after he got back from New York, Ayers-Moore said, and he has been in and out of hospitals and group homes for three decades. Time after time, he has tested the patience of the people who love him.

"It got to the point where he didn't want to talk to anybody and didn't want to be in reality. I couldn't watch the movie 'A Beautiful Mind,' because every stitch of it reminded me of Nathaniel."

As do so many schizophrenics, Ayers-Moore says, her brother would improve with medication but then refuse to take it and slip back into his tortured world.

"It was very difficult for my mother, because he would curse her out, call her names, threaten her. When we went to visit her in the nursing home on her birthday, she looked at me and said, 'I miss Tony.' He was her pride and joy, and she did everything she possibly could to help him."

Nathaniel talks often of his mother, expressing his love in his own way.

"She was a beautician," he said. "That's beauty. And music is beauty, so I guess that's why I started playing."

Nathaniel came west after his mother's death five years ago. He hooked up with his estranged father and other relatives but soon found the streets.

"It's an absolute dream here, and I notice that everyone is smiling," Nathaniel said at 2nd and Hill, where he sometimes steps into the tunnel to hear the echo of his violin. "The sun is out all day, and the nights are cool and serene."

Nathaniel often takes a rock and scrawls names on the sidewalk.

"Oh, those," he said. "A lot of those are the names of my classmates at Juilliard."

One day I asked about his hopes and dreams.

"Oh, that's easy," he said. "I need to get these other two strings, but I don't have the money right now."

He had no use for a house, he said, or a car or anything else.

"All I want is to play music, and the crisis I'm having is right here," Nathaniel said, pointing to the missing strings and calling out the names of Itzhak Perlman and Jascha Heifetz, as if the renowned violinists might hear his plea and send along the strings.

Nathaniel refused to accept money from me or freebies from Studio City Music. I suggested he go back to Pershing Square, where passersby often dropped money in his violin case, but it didn't seem logical to him.

When I brought him a new set of strings from Studio City Music, I had to insist that he not pay me for them. He had trouble attaching the strings because his violin is in such bad shape. But by the next day, he had jury-rigged them and was happy to give me a show at his Little Walt Disney Concert Hall.

I had invited two staffers from Lamp Community, a service agency for homeless, mentally ill men and women. Maybe they could get his trust, I figured, and determine whether they could help him at some point.

But as Nathaniel began to play, I doubted there was anyone or anything that could deliver the same peace that music brings him. He was in his sanctuary, eyes half-mast in tribute to the masters.

As cars roared by and trash flew off a dump truck, Nathaniel was oblivious. He played a Mendelssohn concerto, a Beethoven concerto and the Brahms double concerto for violin and cello, his bow gliding effortlessly as it sliced through the madness.


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