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What Did I Do With My Violin?

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What Did I Do With My Violin?

What Did I Do With My Violin?

What Did I Do With My Violin?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Every few months seems to bring another headline about a lost violin. This week, it was Philippe Quint, who lost his violin in New York City. David Sternbach, director of the Center for Arts and Wellness, talks with Robert Siegel about what makes classical musicians so forgetful.


Now, news from the valuable lost musical instruments department.

Item: on Monday, violinist Philippe Quint left his $4 million Stradivarius in minicab in New York City. The driver returned it.

Item: In early April, a violinist with the Toronto Symphony, Jim Wallenberg, left his considerably less-expensive-but-no-less-priced fiddle at a street car stop. His wife was in the hospital expecting twins at the time. That violin was also returned.

Every year, someone leaves a Guarneri or Stradivarius in a taxicab trunk or on the luggage rack of a passenger train. You may recall that Yo-Yo Ma in 1999 managed to forget his cello in a taxi.

It happens often and though it's true that concert musicians are the rare people who schlep around a multi-million dollar piece of equipment, lots of people misplace their laptops sometimes with state secrets on the hard drive. But that fiddle is the musician's partner and livelihood. And we wondered, what's up with musicians who lose their instruments?

So we have called David Sternbach, a psychotherapist and director of the Center for Arts and Wellness at George Mason University. Why do musicians so often lose their instruments?

Professor DAVID STERNBACH (Psychotherapist; Director, Center for Arts and Wellness, George Mason University): I think sometimes it is absent-mindedness, sometimes it's hyper-focus. The level of challenge it requires to perform that we expect in professionals is very demanding and somebody organizing one's entire soul to put across a great performance, may miss things out.

And sometimes it really is just plain fear. It's a way of helping the - maybe not have to do this event and that would be out the consciousness. I don't think someone who leaves a Strad in a car is really wishing that he would lose it. But he might not want to put himself once again through that terrible pressure and live up to the last time they performed.

SIEGEL: So, you're saying - now, we understand you're a psychotherapist - that there might be some subconscious ambivalence toward that instrument.

Prof. STERNBACH: It could well be. Well, we have it all life long.


Prof. STERNBACH: Pablo Casals said once in his a memoir that in the (unintelligible) San Francisco, in the earthquake of '04.

SIEGEL: The great cellist, you're talking about?

Prof. STERNBACH: A boulder came down the mountain and crashed my left hand. He said, thank God I'll never have to play the cello again. And he said, I have wondered the rest of my life about that response.

SIEGEL: In addition to being a psychotherapist, you've also played the French horn professionally.

Prof. STERNBACH: Yes, I have.

SIEGEL: Ever lose that French horn?


SIEGEL: You did?

Prof. STERNBACH: When I was at the Washington Opera doing my clinical training, my wife and I went out loaded with potluck food tray. Wonderful party in the afternoon. And when I got to the opera house, it turns out my horn wasn't there. We broke many speed laws and the horn was waiting for me inside the door of the house. It never got included for the public or the opera. We got back down, I was drenched in sweat and shaking. And at the first break, I told the other horn player how lucky I was. And he said, oh I had a horn in the locker, I've an extra always. And I suppose I have to be restrained from wanting to strangle him.

SIEGEL: It's easier to imagine forgetting about or misplacing an instrument decisive of even a viola than, say, Yo-Yo Ma's cello. I mean, it's hard to forget a cello, but that would be like forgetting a child because of their size.

Prof. STERNBACH: That would be a record…


Prof. STERNBACH: …but I can understand it. He was perhaps hyper-focused on the music, thinking about what he wanted to accomplish on that stage, thinking about his colleagues and some chat and shot he goes about his business and remembers. But he's got the record I think for that. I never heard of anything that big.

SIEGEL: No, we know of no harpist on record…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. STERNBACH: Or double bass player.

SIEGEL: …who misplaced the double bass or the harp. Well, David Sternbach, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Prof. STERNBACH: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's David Sternbach, a director of the Center for Arts and Wellness at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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