Juilliard grad is poleaxed by clarinet car theft

Juilliard grad is poleaxed by clarinet car theft


norman lebrecht

June 04, 2018

The Georgia Symphony Orchestra is seeking help for one of its clarinettists who lost everything in a car theft.

Shaquille Southwell is a 2015 Juilliard graduate.


Here’s his story:

This year on a night at the end of February, someone smashed in my car window and stole what represented my whole heart. My clarinets were my expressive voice, my sole means of income, and they’ve been with me through countless hours of practice and performances all over the world (Japan, Argentina, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, etc).

Since the theft, my life has been put on hold because I haven’t been able to audition for orchestras or even perform locally to earn a living. I spent 4 years working toward a degree in a field that I can only pursue with proper equipment. The 2 instruments I had (Bb and A) were high-school graduation gifts from my grandmothers, the French leather double case they were in was an off-to-college gift from my high school teacher who plays in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, so they meant quite a lot to me and since having the instruments they’ve undergone several upgrades and additions to ensure they performed at the highest level. Everything that was stolen totaled out to $15,400, and though I’m usually uncomfortable asking for hand-outs, the people close to me have convinced me that my friends and colleagues would be interested in helping because they understand how damaging this has been on my career and my well-being.

The instruments themselves weren’t insured (they will be from now on) but my parents’ homeowners insurance was only willing to contribute $200 toward replacing them, so obviously that was frustrating and didn’t even scratch the surface in terms of what it would take to get back what was taken from me.

Can you help Shaquille? Click here.

UPDATE: Delighted to see that Slipped Disc readers have responded immediately.


  • Hernando Marquez says:

    If they truly represented his ‘whole heart’ I feel he might not have left them in an unattended car, and left them uninsured.

    Take out a loan or get a credit card, get some new instruments and look after your ‘whole heart’ so there isn’t a next time.

  • STB says:

    “I haven’t been able to audition for orchestras or even perform locally to earn a living.” So you’re telling me that in order to even play music with other musicians, you require $15000 in gear? My heart goes out about the theft, that shouldn’t happen to anyone. But you need to get off of your high horse and realize that your poor excuse bleeds of excessive privilege. You don’t need $15000 in luxury gear to play the clarinet: go find yourself a nice used pair of R13s. If you need that gear to elevate youself high enough just to participate in the clarinet community, you have plenty to learn using what the rest of us have to work with. Some families don’t have that much money to shell out in the first place.

  • Deborah Mawer says:

    ==someone smashed in my car window

    Shouldn’t the instruments be hidden in the trunk of a car ?

  • Steve Cho says:

    Respectfully, the replies above strike me as heartless. Anyone can make a mistake, and I’m sure Mr. Southwell is even more heartbroken than he would have been had he lost his instruments by no fault of his own. Not everyone is in a position to just “get a credit card or a loan” for $15,000.

  • Anon. says:

    I can not understand why musicians leave instruments, sticks, bows etc unattended in their cars.

  • anon says:

    Y’all need to cut him some slack. Damage or loss to an instrument, whole or in part, is devastating both financially and emotionally. If you have an instrument for a long time, you learn its strengths, weaknesses and quirks, and it’s near impossible to not grow attached to it.

    Sometimes you can’t take instruments into some venues. They may be mistaken for suspicious packages. Heck, even airport security isn’t very nice to instruments. We don’t know the reason he left it in his car. Just give him the benefit of the doubt…

    • Harold says:

      Totally insane to leave 2 small instruments on a back seat. Tuba, yes. Clarinets, no. Not cutting him any “slack”. If you know your stuff, R-13 perfectly finen

      • Old Man in the Midwest says:

        Yes, I left my tuba in the car unlocked one day to go grocery shopping. It was totally my mistake.

        When I came back, there were two tubas.

  • Doug says:

    Perhaps Juilliard needs to teach its students Personal Responsibility 101. Know where your instruments are at all times; take out insurance on them; never leave them in the car in the hot Georgia sun.

  • jaypee says:

    5 comments, and 4 blaming this guy… sheeeesh…
    This place looks more and more like fox “news”…

    • Doug says:

      Seems the only instrument you know how to play is the ankle spanker. Professionals NEVER leave their axe in the car.

  • Evin says:

    He should of left his horns in the trunk, 15k on a Bb clarinet????, What type of “work” was done on the piece of wood? Solid gold ligature and mpc?

    • Max Grimm says:

      15k on a Bb clarinet????

      No. He says that *everything* that was stolen totals 15.400 and ‘everything’ included 2 professional-quality instruments.

    • Michael Comins says:

      That’s SHOULD’VE, not should of….

  • Mary says:

    Wow! Yes he should have been more responsible but to blame the VICTIM WHEN the crime should not have committed in such cruel fashion. No body is forcing you to help but cruel comments are victimizing him in a whole different way.EMPATHY People try it.

  • Hernando Marquez says:

    Also, looking at his instruments in his promo photos they are most definitely not top of the range. From a quick word to a few professional colleagues, they estimate replacing like for like to be more like $5000-6000. So the question must also be asked, is this young man looking to make a profit? All seems completely nonsensical to me that a graduate of Juilliard, with a job in an orchestra would give up as his old clarinets were stolen when he left them in his car.

    An example of the young man holding the stolen instrument can be seen here: https://georgiasymphony.org/gso-announces-three-woodwind-additions/

  • Angry New Yorker says:

    While I agree it was crazy to leave instruments in a car, he’s young and who knows — he may have left those instruments only for a few minutes thinking they’d be OK (we’ve all done careless things). I felt for the young man and made a small donation. I’m the biggest cynic I know — you’ll notice my handle for SD is “Angry New Yorker.” This morning, however, I decided to ignore the “snarky, hypercritical” and go with the “kinder, more generous” Sometimes, it comes back to you….I got the loveliest thank you message from Shaquille. Ya know — it made my otherwise lousy day.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    The thing that’s heart breaking is that clarinets are anything but heavy (except for bass, contra-alto and contrabass clarinets). I can understand leaving a harp or double bass in plain view. But live and learn, as they say. We all make mistakes.

    The story I’m about to tell you is absolutely true: I was once at a cafe in S.F. close to Davies Hall. A cellist came in with his cello in a hard case. He went to the bathroom and left his cello unattended!!! He didn’t ask a barista to watch his cello either. When he came out of the restroom, I told him that I would NEVER assume that an unattended instrument is safe, anywhere. He looked at me as though I were a space alien. He then was suspicious of my motives. I explained to him that I was a tuba player, and would never assume that even such a heavy and awkward instrument is safe. He did not thank me, but seemed pissed instead. Go figure!

    I know of several tuba players who had their tubas stolen because their cars were parked in ‘sketchy’ neighborhoods. People will steal anything and everything.

  • fierywoman says:

    The violinist Pierre Amoyal left his Strad in his Jaguar when he went out to dinner in the 1980’s and the car was stolen. The violin got into the hands of the Sdrangata (one of the Mafias in Italy), who tried to ransom it to him. He got it back after a while once the Sdrangata understood they couldn’t actually sell the violin — it was too famous — and that Amoyal wasn’t in the financial position to pay the ransom.

  • Susan says:

    I see some confusion over the amount that was stolen. If one person’s reaserch was correct, that’s about 10-12,000 for the instruments themselves. Most likely more factoring in upgrades. Many musicians with smaller cases also keep everything in a single bag. I’m not saying this is the case, but equipment may have also been stolen (stands, music, repair kits, etc) which adds to the price. This isn’t counting whatever was in the case along with the clarinets plus the cases themselves. While it could be a stretch, this total could also be accurate.

    Also, instruments can be irraplaceble. Yes, you can go get an identical one but it’s not the same. When you play one for that long, you can’t just pick up another and continue perfectly. It takes dedication and time to learn how it plays, how to get it to do certain things, and so on. This is even more prominent with professionals. You learn that “there are many like it, but this one it mine” and it can’t just be switched at a snap of a finger.

    I remember when I was a beginner, there was a girl in elementary school playing a solo at our concert. I had heard her play it before, and it sounded amazing. Right when we got to the concert though, here flute broke onstage. Luckily she was able to borrow a friend’s and still perform. However, it sounded a lot worse because she was never able to practice on that flute. The same principal applies.

    Yes, you could get a cheap instrument and play until you have saved up enough to replace what was stolen. Any clarinet that won’t detract significantly from your savings isn’t worth playing as a professional. The tone will be awful at the very least,which will make it hard to successfully audition for anything to bring in income.

    Maybe it was irresponsible to leave the instruments in a car. Can anyone ever predict when something like this will happen though? Maybe he should’ve insured it. Maybe something prevented him from doing so. I’ve left my instruments unattended before. I’ve even forgotten them on school buses when I was younger. But it’s not because I didn’t care about them. As a fellow clarinetist, clarinet cases can be very annoying. Too big to easily fit in a decent sized bag but too small to see when it’s not in your lap. I love my instrument with all of my heart, there were just other things in my mind some days.

    We don’t know what the exact details are. But everyone slips up sometimes. And, if anyone can see the future and tell when stuff like getting robbed is coming, tell the world how you do it. We’d really like to know. Everything he said is possible though. Those instruments could’ve very well been hidden in his car. If the robbery took place somewhere where they could follow his car, the robbery might’ve knowwn there was an instrument in there. And, really, does anyone lug their instrument into a McDonalds and create a scene when it would’ve been better off sitting in the car for five minutes? Not everyone has an instrument-sitter to follow them around all day.

    I don’t see why so many people immediately blamed this man for something that wasn’t his fault. Think about your most prized possession and imagine if it was stolen. Is it a special basesball bat? Why don’t you just get another? Oh, right, it wouldn’t be the same. Everyone has something that’s special to them. Maybe it’s not worth thousands of dollars. Or maybe it is. Just think about what it’s worth to you and what it would be like for someone else to go through.

  • Nick2 says:

    The issue here surely is not making a mistake as some posters havw suggested. It is yet another instance where a musician whose livelihood depends on having instruments he has played for some years decides, for whatever reason, to leave them in the back of a car where absolutely anyone can see them! It is precisely the same as the violinist who left her violin on a seat or the luggage rack when she went to the loo on the train and was amazed it had disappeared when she returned. As I said in a previous case, if there had been a bag of cash with $15,400 in it, I for one cannot believe anyone of sound mind would not have moved heaven and earth to ensure it was not left in the back of a car! And not only does this young man casually leave them in a car, he has been playing them for some years without checking if he has any insurance! Sorry, but the mind boggles!

    I genuinely feel sorry for the situation he finds himself in. But young musicians should surely be taught very early on in their studies that they are responsible for their instruments and this means ensuring they are not left on the back seats of cars and that they are insured!

    • Max Grimm says:

      Be that as it may, most musicians don’t constantly walk about, thinking of the financial worth of their instruments.
      Musicians are humans too and humans are flawed, human minds have their off days as well and while that mostly manifests itself in small, common everyday mistakes, sometimes costly mistakes will be made, no matter the profession or how trivial the circumstances appear.
      As for “if there had been a bag of cash with $15,400 in it”, if a human is carrying said bag there will come a time when it is forgotten, misplaced or lost…


      • Nick2 says:

        You may have a point regarding a bag of cash – although if it was your own hard-earned cash being taken to purchase an instrument you had had your eye on for some time, I tend to doubt it. Also the two examples you quote bear little relation to leaving an instrument on which your livelihood depends in plain sight of passers by.

        I do accept people make mistakes, including musicians. Didn’t Yo-Yo Ma leave a Strad in the back of a taxi and it was returned only after several hours thanks to co-operation from the Mayor and the Police Chief? But I continue to believe that it is not merely absent-mindedness/a mistake or whatever you want to call it that makes musicians leave instruments hugely valuable to them in places where they can be stolen.

        I always used to tell my staff that there are three cardinal rules that must be followed in the management of an arts organisation. Check! Double Check! And then check again for good measure!

        I note this young man had not left his keys in the car!

        • Max Grimm says:

          I can agree with much of that. In the end, complacency and having come to handle an instrument as a simple tool (no matter how expensive and no matter how subconscious the thought) seem to be the most prevalent causes.

  • Bruce says:

    Ugh. People are fucking terrible.

  • Shubbak Maksour says:

    Last year I parked my empty car in a garage in San Francisco and the rear passenger window was smashed, costing me $500 (deductible for glass repair). My lack of responsibility and lapse in good judgement is obvious, but I would like some help in figuring out where exactly I went wrong:

    (a) Was my mistake to think I could park my car without consequences? It is indeed more difficult to smash the window of a moving car (though possible.)

    (b) Is the deeper root cause that I chose to live in a region without good public transit, thereby requiring the purchase of a car that exposes me to this risk? I’ve been looking for more reasons to consider a move to a proper European city.

    (c) What if I were to break my own windows, just to deprive would-be window breakers from the joy of smashing my car windows? Imagine the frustration on their faces as they realize they’ve been foiled!

    Other suggestions?