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Classical 101

Street Symphony Brings Classical Music to the Mentally Ill

Above: Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, the subject of the book and film The Soloist, receives an impromptu violin lesson from Street Symphony founder and Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Robert Vijay Gupta. It is an abyss as deep as any crater, a place as far from home as the most remote dot on any map. Mental illness has many names but, in the eyes of society, it all too often renders its victims nameless and all but metes out their dignity. Robert Vijay Gupta, a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, had witnessed first-hand the profoundly positive effect classical music had on Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a Juilliard-trained double bassist whose journey with mental illness, homelessness and music 's therapeutic powers was chronicled by journalist  Steve Lopez in a series of columns for the Los Angeles Times and in the book (later a film) The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship and the Redemptive Power of Music. Gupta wanted other victims of mental illness to benefit from the beauty of music, so in 2011, and with human rights activist Adrian Hong and arts publicist Adam Crane, he founded Street Symphony, a program that brings live performances of classical music to those struggling with mental illness in impoverished communities. Today, Gupta and Street Symphony's team of musicians regularly perform programs in prisons and in clinics and shelters on Los Angeles' Skid Row. The team also gives public performances to help raise awareness of mental health issues. Street Symphony, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers and Gupta - who is now Ayers' mentor -  are the subjects of  a story in the Summer 2012 issue of Listen magazine.