The Soloist - FROM JULLIARD to the STREETS


When Nathaniel Ayers first arrived at Juilliard, during the fall of 1970, he had already completed a year at Ohio University.  Juilliard then, as now, was the epitome of achievement for a budding student of the arts. 

Ayers began his studies under the tutelage of Homer Mensch, one of America's greatest bass players.  A former member of the New York Philharmonic, Mensch also contributed something memorable to popular culture.  It was he who recorded the two repeated notes, associated with the "Great White" shark, in the movie Jaws.

Impressed with his student’s innate ability, Mensch (who died, aged 91, in December of 2005) urged Nathaniel to work hard.  At the end of his first year, three faculty members gave mostly glowing reviews of their pupil’s progress and performance. 

Ayers, promoted from the school’s middle-level theater orchestra to its concert orchestra, was “assumed to be exceptional and expected to become extraordinary,” just like his fellow students.  (See Lopez, The Soloist, page 226 of the 2008 hardcover edition.)

Then, during his second year at Juilliard, things began to change for Nathaniel.  His grades, except for music, slipped.  A fastidious dresser, he began to look disheveled.  He talked incessantly and drew graffiti all over his living quarters.  He was at peace only when he played his music.  His friends noticed the differences.  So did his family.

One night, while visiting friends at the beginning of his third academic year, Nathaniel snapped.  His worried hosts called for help, and Ayers was taken to the psychiatric emergency room at Bellevue Hospital.  Treating their patient with heavy doses of Thorazine, doctors made a diagnosis.  One of Juilliard’s concert-orchestra bassists had schizophrenia.

On the 6th of October, 1972, Nathaniel was forced to withdraw.  Juilliard’s records reflect a reason: “Program too demanding at present.”  (See Lopez, The Soloist, page 233 of the hardcover edition.)

Life, for Nathaniel, became too demanding—all the time.  No one could predict what might send him into a rage, and foul-mouthed ranting could follow loving expressions.  His Mother did her very best to help her only son.  So did his sisters.  But the illness significantly damaged nearly every aspect of Nathaniel’s existence—except for his music. 

When Dorothy died, in 2000, Nathaniel thought he’d visit his father who once lived in Los Angeles.  Not knowing that his dad had already moved on to Las Vegas, Ayers went to LA. Although he lived with a relative for awhile, that arrangement could not last. 

He found a semblance of peace on the streets of LA, playing his solo instrument—a broken-down violin—with the backing of a different type of orchestra: the cacophony of sounds made by sirens, horns and constantly flowing traffic 

Years later, commenting on the articles Steve Lopez was writing about her brother for the LA Times, Jennifer Ayers-Moore (Nathaniel’s younger sister) posted the following note at Schizophrenia.com’s web site:

I don't know why he insists on living on the streets, but I believe it is because our mother passed away and she was certainly his refuge, no matter what. When she died he just seemed to not want to be bothered with any one! I do really appreciate all the kindness and how people have reached out to my brother and even how the stories have made a difference, so much so that the politicians are rethinking how they treat the homeless and mentally ill. That is wonderful and I hope they will see that something has to be done and the need for restructuring the system as it stands. I love my brother very much and thanks to Mr. Steve Lopez, the LA Times reporter, I am able to speak with my brother more regularly. Thank you - to all of you who care, may God bless you.

What is the nature of schizophrenia, the disease which robbed Nathaniel of his potential to become a world-class musician, and how does it manifest itself in his personality?

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 01, 2009

Updated Last Revision: Jul 13, 2019

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"FROM JULLIARD to the STREETS" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 01, 2009. Aug 24, 2019.
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