The panic set in shortly after midnight, when Lynn Kuo realized her violin was gone.
She tried to steady herself as anxieties raced. The six-figure, string instrument was her livelihood, as assistant concertmaster with the orchestra at the National Ballet. Though the violin was insured, she had scrimped and borrowed money from family to afford it just two years earlier.
And by the time the realization dawned that it wasn’t in her apartment, it had been hours since the violin was left absent-mindedly on a Toronto subway car. She had entrusted it to her partner earlier that evening; he was taking the subway to her apartment, while she biked home. “Make sure my baby’s OK,” she recalls saying. Only as night fell did she notice that the violin had never arrived.
Her partner’s face turned pale. The two scrambled to the subway system that veins the city, the clock ticking towards the last ride of the night. They stopped at station after station, to ask if an instrument had been turned in. That night in 2012 was a long-ago memory until now, when Kuo’s neighbour sent her a text with curious news. It seemed what happened to her, had happened again.
There was another instrument lost somewhere on Toronto’s subway. This time, it was a 263-year-old Lonenzo-Carcassi violin in a fire-engine red case. While police said the violin went missing Friday, its owner — a university student and professional musician who spoke to the Star on the condition of anonymity — says it was lost Thursday, most likely between Bloor-Yonge and St. George stations.
“I was exhausted. That part of it, how it went missing is blurry to me,” he said. He only noticed that the case wasn’t on his back — usually carried by its two black straps — after exiting the TTC at St. Clair West.
The realization was horrifying.
“It’s my life,” he said on Sunday. “It’s how I pay my rent, it’s how I pay for my groceries, and even how I sometimes support my family. It’s my worst nightmare come true.”
But he isn’t alone in the experience.
In Toronto and cities around the world, for years, cherished instruments have been left behind for lonely commutes — in shuttles, taxicabs, trains and subway cars.
There was the musician in London last year, who told media outlets he forgot his 310-year-old violin on the train after a long day of recording. The instrument, reported to be worth six figures, was later returned in a parking lot.
In Switzerland, eight years ago, a violin left for an unaccompanied whirl on the train was described by HuffPost as “priceless.” That instrument made its way to a lost and found.
And in 1999, an absent-minded moment sent famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma into a scramble. Exhausted from a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Ma placed an instrument reported to be worth more than $2 million in the back of a cab, and forgot it. Police later tracked it down in a garage, the AP reported.
Though deserted instruments can be worth a small fortune, the circumstances of forgetting them in transit can be the same as any lost wallet, abandoned backpack or wayward toy left on a seat. Fatigue or a wandering mind can take over, with a moment of panic after a door snaps shut.
Kuo compared a well-made violin to a piece of precious art — it could appreciate in value over time whereas some other instruments may weather and wear, she said, which is why they can be pricey and aged. The difficulty was that a musician’s salary often made quality instruments hard to access, she said.
The owner of the latest missing instrument said quality violins age like wine. “The longer it ages, the better it tastes, and in this case, the older it is . . . it will sound more mature, and deeper.”
He’s spent the last few days “grasping at straws.” He’s talked to cops and phoned instrument shops, imploring them to be on the lookout — “in case someone brings it in, with good intentions or not.”
When Kuo’s violin was picked up on the subway back in 2012, it wasn’t by a seasoned musician who could recognize the instrument’s value.
Though Toronto acupuncturist Maria De Oliveira Laffin had a niece who played violin in Brazil, she couldn’t immediately make out what the unchaperoned case was.
Laffin and her husband, Paul, had been visiting friends that night near Toronto’s waterfront, and hopped on a subway car home.
The unattended package made Laffin nervous, at first — she’d lived in London, and the spectre of a potential subway bombing still weighed on her. But she and Paul decided to poke further, and found a tag on the case emblazoned with the names of Kuo and the National Ballet.
It seemed important to someone, Laffin recalled. She herself had lost a beloved pair of sunglasses on the subway, which she never saw again. She wanted to be sure the violin found its way home.
So the couple turned to the internet, using the name they found and the connection to the National Ballet to find an email address they believed was Kuo’s. They sent a note, which Kuo only saw after coming home from her fruitless midnight search. And after a joyous call, sometime after 1 a.m., they arranged to meet at a subway station the next day. The instrument would be passed over the turnstiles at the stop, from Laffin’s arms to a grateful Kuo.
Hearing the news of another lost violin on the TTC, Kuo wished its owner the same luck. “I’m hoping that people will be just as honest — just as Canadian — as what happened to me,” she said.
Hearing Kuo’s story in a phone call with the Star, the instrument’s owner spoke through tears.
“I hope that my story can be identical to hers,” he said. “Because it would mean the world if I got it back.”
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