Billie Silvey
May 2008
The Redemptive
Power of

Steve Lopez is my favorite columnist at the Los
Angeles Times.  
A California native, he came here
Time magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I had been impressed by his columns about the
police crackdown on the homeless community
downtown in the wake of the young professionals
moving into lofts there.  Where most of the L.A.
media focused on the new life gentrification was
breathing into deteriorating parts of downtown and
the restorations that were transforming spartan
industrial areas into stylish living spaces, Steve
focused on the distress of the homeless people
being evicted from one area after another.

One day, as he roamed the streets in search of a
fresh approach for his columns, he heard amazing
music.  It was being played by a homeless man on
a violin with just two strings.  The man was playing,
entranced, near a statue of Beethoven.  When the
music ended, Lopez met Nathaniel Ayers, who
would become the subject of a number of his

A friendship developed between the men, and they
attended a rehearsal at Disney Concert Hall and
met with Yo Yo Ma, who had studied with Ayers
at Juilliard.  It was while he was at Juilliard that
Ayers had been stricken with paranoid
schizophrenia.  Cared for by his mother until her
death, he came to Los Angeles in search of his

Lopez, the author of three novels, was recently
interviewed by Tavis Smiley about his new book
based on Ayers’ story.  
The Soloist: A Lost
Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the
Redemptive Power of Music is now in bookstores
and available on, where I just
ordered it.

In it, Lopez writes:

His first offering is a Beethoven cello sonata,
and this drab concrete corner of downtown Los
Angeles, with its nearby settlement of bug-bitten
denizens and moving clouds of noxious vehicle
exhaust, is transformed into a place of lilting

                             *  *  *

Nathaniel’s bow is a fluid and obedient
slave, his fingers dancing ballet on the fresh-
varnished neck, and the music cuts him off from
noise, worry, fear, illness.

                              *  *  *

Music is an anchor, a connection to great
artists, to history and to himself.  His head is
filled with mixed signals, a frightening jumble
of fractured meaning, but in music there is
balance and permanence.  The notes of
Rhapsody sit on the staff as they did ninety
years ago, precisely where Bloch left them.  The
work of Nathaniel’s beloved Beethoven has
endured through parts of three centuries and
will last beyond our time.  Music is a
meditation, a reverie, a respite from madness.  
It is his way to be alone without fear.

A movie based on the book is due out in
November.  It is being directed by Joe Wright,
who directed
Pride and Prejudice and
Atonement, and it stars Robert Downey Jr. as
Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Ayers.

This issue of the website on Music is a family affair,
with my husband Frank, a member of the Mansfield
Chamber Singers, writing about
classical music;
daughter Kathy, who worked fundraisers and jazz
tours for our local jazz station, writing about
and my writing about the
church music I’ve
sung almost every week since I was a child.

What are your experiences with music?  What
impact has it had on your life or the lives of those
you know?  Write me at
and share your story.
My Sound Track
An eclectic website about Women, Christianity, History,
Culture  and the Arts--and anything else that comes to mind.
Nathaniel Ayers