Written by The Weekend Vote
Published: February 1, 2014 at 7:15 AM [UTC]
After Frank was shot with a taser gun and robbed of the "Lipinski" Strad while emerging from a gig last Monday night in Milwaukee, many people have called for the better-guarding of highly-valuable fine instruments. But what would this look like?
Should we put all highly-valuable instruments in vaults or museum display cases, only to be removed when a guard unlocks them? Should violinists who regularly play Strads have armed guards with them at all times when they transport instruments that are worth millions? Should these instruments even be played?
Carried to the extreme, these measures seem pretty impractical and would be a real victory for the power of fear. A violinist who plays a fine instrument needs to practice it, bring it to rehearsal, travel with it and perform with it. They are some of the finest-sounding instruments on the planet, and this is part of their value. They benefit from being played. That said, it's already near-impossible for a player to buy such an instrument; imagine the financial burden of an arrangement that requires an armed guard?
Yet I shudder to think about what Frank Almond has endured, physically and emotionally. And I shudder to think of an object as historically significant, artistically pure, musically beautiful and financially valuable -- in the hands of a crook! If we only could have protected Frank, if we only could have protected the instrument!
I've transported valuable violins, and though I was nervous about doing so, I never worried that I would be assaulted and robbed of them. At most, I worried that someone might make off with them while I wasn't looking, so I endeavored to be looking at all times. I worried more about my level of alertness, about keeping from banging or dropping them, about getting through TSA without being told I'd have to check the violins as baggage, and about preventing anyone from trying to pile something heavy on top of them in the overhead compartment of the plane, once inside.
But the concept of being assaulted for one's instrument is just shocking. How should we handle the fact that the instrument of our trade has become a high-end art object and "financial instrument" for collectors?
1. From what I've read so far, here and elsewhere on the Net, this sounds like, quite possibly, an inside job. This leads me to …
2. Don't let ANYONE know you play or are carrying a valuable instrument -- except those who MUST know. Ditto, especially, if you own it. How true what the old sage said long ago: "If you would keep your secret from an enemy, don't tell it to a friend."
3. Don't carry the instrument in a shaped case.
4. Be very aware of your surroundings. Report any suspicious persons -- followers, stalkers, loiterers. Keep a cell phone on your person whenever and wherever you go out -- be sure it's well charged. And keep a good noisemaker on you at all times -- e.g., a police whistle.
5. Arm yourself. Criminals aren't dumb. If they even SUSPECT you might be armed and prepared to meet them with equal force, they're going to think twice before trying to pull off a heist. Potential victims have averted many a crime simply by brandishing a weapon, never firing it. I completed two related training courses for this: 1) semi-auto pistols; 2) pepper spray/mace. Our trainers emphasized that non-deadly force should be the first plan of attack whenever possible. The advantage of pepper spray, mace, tasers, is that their effects aren't irreversible. You temporarily disable the would-be attacker -- long enough to hold him or her for police.
For perspective, "The Card Players" by Cézanne sold for $270mil in 2011. It's also speculated that the "Mona Lisa" is worth around $770mil today. Insane? You bet!
I guess one could "thank" the top fine art and instrument dealers for relentlessly pushing prices up pretty much since the 70s, and out of the range of most mortals.
Let's hope this Strad doesn't get destroyed or damaged, whether it ends up back into lawful hands or the "baby" of an unscrupulous collector...
Get executive protection. If you're going to walk around with an instrument worth several millions of dollars (the technical term being "shiny object" in certain circles) then you should assume someone else wants it, that they'll do bad things to you to get it and you should make sure that you have a warm body in between you and the bad guys if yours isn't up to the task. The instrument might be worth fending off people wielding sticks and guns to you but it's a pretty awful place to be.
There are people out there who devote their time and effort to being able to justify playing on a violin worth millions of dollars and there are people who put that same effort into fighting off the bad guys. It's probably going to be expensive (and maybe there should be a fund for some legal taskforce or another for that exact reason) but protecting an instrument like that is probably one of those times where it's worth it.
Would a museum or private collector allow a curator to take a Renoir in public places for display with no security provisions? Scarcity and speculation is putting the rarest and finest instruments in a similar position.
Similar to what our instructors told us during pistol training: "Best not to attempt deadly force with a firearm unless you've had combat training." Better to sideline the bad guy temporarily with non-deadly force so that you can get help or hold him for police.
Even a "mere" $100,000 violin could seem interesting to robbers, and there are thousands of them (and millions of robbers).
Now, if he had been carrying a couple of grenades he might have been able to shake off the taser blast in time to hurl one of them and thereby blow up the minivan that was escaping with his instrument. That would have been the true Rambo thing to do.
Jim, did your training include learning to draw your weapon quickly while carrying your violin, music stand, music, etc.?
Don't recall mention of these last three items but would have to check the written handouts we got during class to be sure -- and there were a lot of printed handouts. With proper training and practice, as long as one hand is free, a skilled handler can draw VERY fast.
FWIW, the time in class -- reviewing handouts, observing demos, learning applicable laws -- was far more than the time spent out on the range.
I almost bought the Soames Strad in 1968 for a "mere" $25,000. Today I could barely afford the insurance on it let alone a bodyguard every time I played a gig or rehearsal.
Those who say always travel with security....yeah, riiiight.
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