On Aug. 6, 2015, nearly three years after her father’s death, National Public Radio correspondent Nina Totenberg departed from her regular reporting on the Supreme Court to file a more personal story. Totenberg’s seven-minute piece, which aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” addressed the recovery of a treasured musical instrument that had been taken from her father 35 years earlier.
After a concert, her father, virtuoso violinist Roman Totenberg, discovered that his instrument and “musical partner,” a 1734 Antonio Stradivari violin, was stolen from his office at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“It was a crushing loss for my father,” she said. “My father would dream of opening his violin case and seeing the Strad there again, but he never laid eyes on it again.”
Totenberg reported on the instrument’s ultimate whereabouts — an aspiring student had stolen the violin and kept it locked away, only for his ex-wife to find the instrument after his death — and the process of getting it back.
Totenberg recalled this story for the Chronicle after the Sept. 23 First Amendment program at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
“I wanted people to realize who my father was, what playing the violin meant to him and what it meant to recover an instrument like this that he called ‘his partner,’” she said.
The story required Totenberg to scour her late father’s recordings.
“I sat there listening to his CDs and saying, ‘Well, should I use this one? Should I use that one?’”
Totenberg finally selected music and paired it with her own words. It was all quite different from her regular duties, which did not generally involve tears.
When putting together a personal story, “you’re allowed to cry when you do that,” she said. Speaking about coverage of communal tragedy, such as last October’s synagogue shooting, she advised, “I know this is really hard, but try to keep your distance. It’s the only thing you can do. Otherwise, it’ll suck you in.”
Such distance is essential. “You have to go on. And as hard as it is to go on, the only way to do it is to sort of try to step back and say, ‘My heart’s broken about this but I need to do my job.’” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.