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Salvation through violin
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Author: Barry Carter
Out of jail, Paterson teen seeks salvation in the strings

His hands get tired fingering the violin strings, but Issac Velez couldn’t care less about fatigue. Just having it cradled under his chin, the bow in his right hand, is like holding an old girlfriend in his arms again.

He didn’t want to put her down recently, but he does to flex his fingers so they won’t cramp. Then he dives right back into J.S. Bach’s "Gavotte in D Major," a piece he was practicing for a concert earlier this month at a Roman Catholic church near his house in Paterson. He’s played at Saint Bonaventure many times as a boy and he was there on a Saturday keeping pace with a former teacher surprised by how much he remembers.

"Not bad, Issac," said Nathan Thomas. "It’s like you never left."

Neither of them can believe it’s been five years since he last touched a violin. Velez, now 19, was a talented eighth grader in Thomas’s violin ensemble — The Paterson Strings — when he was in middle school. He was so good at one point that he was among a select group of students in the state to play with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. But whatever promise Velez showed back then ended with bad choices in high school; and he’s reminded of what could have been every time he looks down at his ankle.

The house-arrest bracelet strapped to his leg represents his mistakes. The violin in his hand is the future he let slip away. Together, the bracelet, the violin and the musician make one of the most vivid portraits of irony you’ll ever see: a young man gifted to play beautiful music he now clings to for his survival.

"This is what I have been missing," Velez said.....

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