Anthony Parnther was having a great year. He kicked off his inaugural season as music director of the San Bernardino Symphony in September, and as an in-demand session bassoonist he played on the scores for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and the upcoming “Animaniacs” reboot.
Then his beloved bassoon was stolen.
The instrument — a Schreiber S91 Prestige, ripped off through a smashed car window — isn’t worth a lot in dollars. But to Parnther it is priceless.
During a dark time when he was a junior in high school, a year after his family’s house in Virginia burned down, his mother surprised him with the bassoon. The family was strapped for cash and there were months when they couldn’t pay the electric bill, but Parnther’s mother, Samalaulu, always made the monthly payments on the Schreiber.
“It was just kind of like the light at the end of the tunnel,” Parnther said of the instrument. “So of course I just practiced the thing night and day, night and day.”
Samalaulu Parnther died of cancer, but her son went on to study at Northwestern and Yale, defying the odds against a black classical bassoonist performing with the Los Angeles Opera, the San Diego Symphony and the Joffrey Ballet. Always on that bassoon.
You can hear the instrument in solos on Terence Blanchard’s “BlacKkKlansman” score or in the music for “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix. It has accompanied Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, Rihanna and Snoop Dogg.
Parnther’s peers, who tend to favor fancier brands like Heckel, are always surprised when they see it.
“It’s kind of like showing up to the Tour de France with a tricycle,” Parnther said with a laugh, “but it’s a very special tricycle. I have won a lot of races with my tricycle.”
So the theft — which also claimed his Macbook, his batons and the score for Mozart’s bassoon concerto — is a very particular kind of pain. The feeling, he said, was “helplessness.”
“It’s just a symbol of where I came from, and the doors that I’ve been able to open — a lot of them with that instrument,” he said. “I had hoped to play my entire career on that horn, and I don’t know if that’ll happen now.”
The coronavirus has hit freelance musicians especially hard. All of Parnther’s live concerts for the next month were wiped out, and the scoring stages for film and TV music have gone dark as well.
He’s using his unanticipated free time to trawl pawn shops in the region and search online. He wonders if the thief even knows what this maple and metal contraption is. It has his name and contact information attached, should someone choose to return it.
The instrument does have a serial number on it: 30456. It has a French whisper key, a low D-flat/E-flat trill key, a D/E-flat trill key and an articulated A-flat/B-flat trill key. It has a matte finish and an unusually large custom hand rest.
The best outcome would be a reunion, although he’s mentally preparing for that to never happen. The second-best outcome, Parnther said, would be for a young, would-be musician to end up with the bassoon.
“There’s a part of me that feels sorry for the person who did this,” he said, “because, clearly, if their economic situation was better they wouldn’t have to resort to breaking into people’s vehicles. But sometimes people just don’t realize what they’ve taken.”
He added: “They’ve taken the most important thing that I possess away from me.”