STEVE LOPEZ / POINTS WEST

Man of the Streets, in Three Suites

Early 1970s, he said. Right before a concert in Aspen.

"Did you play in Aspen?" Snyder asked.

"Yes, but I got in trouble with the psychiatrists there," Nathaniel said without explanation. "Straitjacket."

He mentioned the names of several teachers and mentors; Snyder knew them all.

"I brought you something," Snyder said, showing Nathaniel the sheet music to Pablo Casals' "Song of the Birds." "It's something appropriate, because you're kind of a wandering bird."

Nathaniel responded by telling Snyder there was a battle in the tunnels between Don Quixote and Colonel Sanders.

"That's a nice story," Snyder said kindly.

Without an invitation, Nathaniel began playing, and Snyder was instantly impressed.

"You know," he said when Nathaniel paused, "you're a very natural player."

For several minutes they talked music, a conversation that was way over my head. Snyder would later write to me: "The way in which he compared the philosophies of different composers and their visions is extraordinary."

Snyder took his own cello and began to play.

"Do you know this?" he asked.

"Bouree," Nathaniel said, from the Bach suite in C major for unaccompanied cello.

As Snyder continued, Nathaniel was riveted. He leaned forward and stared at the fingering. Then a smile suddenly took shape.

Next it was Nathaniel's turn to impress. Snyder asked if he could play Bach, and Nathaniel showed his chops.

"I'm amazed," Snyder said. "I know many talented people who don't have as pretty a sound."

As Nathaniel continued, Snyder leaned in to me.

"He might be a musical genius," he said. "It's not unusual to find someone with his aptitude. What is unbelievable is to see someone without recent training play so well."

Snyder told Nathaniel he ought to seriously consider keeping the apartment as a sanctuary — a safe place to connect spiritually with his music.

Thanks, Nathaniel responded quickly, but he preferred playing on the streets and in the tunnel.

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