The Mad Violinist

Deep in the heart of San Francisco, you can listen to the music of a mad violinist. You'll find him dragging his worn-out bow against a set of broken strings in the hollow underground of Civic Center station. With his eyes locked on music scribbled across sheets of cardboard and his muscles engaged in every stroke, he plays first chair of an orchestra in his mind. But in the world outside, his flawed instrument sends cacophony through the subway tunnels—scratching strings blending with screeching trains. 

People hurry past him as he plays, discomforted by the unnerving sound. They shuttle themselves to disparate destinations to escape the sense of madness reverberating through the air. The sense of lost minds and detached realities, of human tragedies playing out against the cold marble. But as they go, the mad violinist keeps playing—hours and days of melodies heard by no one but the musician himself.

Down there in the literal underbelly of the City by the Bay, a metaphor plays out. A metaphor of a man feverishly trying to make music with his life--a man unable to hear how he resonates in the world around him.

As I watch this man and the swathes of strangers milling through the station, I wonder about the broken violins in all of our lives. I wonder whether the presuppositions that propel us through our days, weeks, months and years are sometimes false, and whether we, too, are deaf to our own noise. I suspect we fear such a truth—that this fear is what makes the mad violinist so disquieting. But then I think, if we make music that is beautiful to our own ears, does the rest really matter? Shouldn't we risk cacophony in pursuit of our personal symphonies?

Guest Author Jeffrey McInnis is a young professional living and learning in San Francisco. He’s an active observer of the world around him and he enjoys sharing his perspective through writing.

"time to practice violin" violin in vintage style on wood background image courtesy of shutterstock

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