Violin Stolen from Rome Tour Bus

A Second Chance at Redemption for a Violin Stolen in Rome?

This is a story about redemption and a violin.

And a request for your help.

My daughter’s cherished violin was recently stolen from our tour bus in Rome, Italy while we were visiting the area around the Vatican.

Here are the details about what happened, and some context around why it’s so important for us to get the violin back. The violin is insured, and we understand the process for making a claim and using the insurance money to shop for another violin.

However, as most dedicated musicians understand, your instrument becomes a part of you, a core element of the development of your talents. Your instrument’s personality evolves alongside your own by way of the hours and hours of practice and performance time you spend with it. For a violinist who practices for hours every day, the violin becomes an extension of yourself.

With that in mind, let me introduce you to the situation…

This is my daughter, Maylee.

Maylee has been playing the violin since just before her 2nd birthday. The joys of being associated with music have been a very significant part of her life. Although she is a proficient musician on the harp, piano, ukulele, guitar, banjo, and viola, the violin is the instrument she loves.

The video below is from a recent recital, where Maylee played a solo from one of the Suzuki books.

Recently Maylee’s “final” violin (the one she expected to use for the rest of her life) was “stolen” from our tour bus in Rome, Italy, just outside of the Vatican. Having to leave Italy without this special violin has been devasting for her, for reasons understandable from the description she wrote about why this particular violin, which she has been playing for the past four years and had planned to be her partner for life, has so much meaning for her.

I asked Maylee to describe the impact the stolen violin has had on her. I’m including her explanation of her attachment to that violin below…

The Sentimental Value of Maylee’s Violin

The Life of My Violin

My violin was made by H. Emile Blondelet in the year 1922 (as of this year it is 100 years old). It was made in Paris. Over the next few decades, it passed through several hands and was neglected, bruised, and scarred. In the few years before I purchased it, it was found by Charles W Liu Fine Violins in Salt Lake City, Utah, and fixed up a bit. It still has many of its scars, through which its story is told. It is a very unique violin.

The life of this violin reminds me of a beautiful story that has always resonated with me as a violinist, The Touch of the Master’s Hand. It was this parallel, I think, that has made me love my violin so much.

How I Found My “Final Violin”

In the summer of 2018, just before I turned 12 years old, I started studying with Jenny Oaks Baker. Soon after I began taking lessons from her, she told me I was ready to get a full-size violin. My violin at the time was a ¾ size and was worth $1,200. Because of how important playing the violin is to me and the level of playing I was at, I needed to get a high-quality, professional violin in the $10,000 – $20,000 range. I also had to be sure that the violin I chose was meant for me; that it was supposed to be my “final violin”. It took us two months to find the right one. It was a very overwhelming task!

Living in Utah at the time, there were many violin shops with high-quality instruments. For weeks, my mom and I went around to the different shops to try them out. If I liked a violin, I would take it home to compare it with violins from other shops.

One of the first shops we visited (the second, I think) was Charles W Liu Fine Violins. I very clearly remember going that day to try a few of their violins out. Most of the violins that I tried were fairly new – made within the previous 20 years. One of the violins, a very unique-looking one, had been made almost 100 years before in Paris. When it came time to try that old violin, the Charles Liu shop assistant gave me a brief history of it. I was amazed at the story. It sounded similar to a story I loved, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand”. The tones of that violin were rich, deep, and sweet – a testament to the age of the violin. (As violins get older, their tone typically matures and becomes sweeter.) I took the violin home. We had more shops to look at before making a decision, but on the way home I told my mom that I loved that violin and I had a feeling that it would be my violin.

Over the next couple of weeks, we visited the other violin shops as we had planned. I took quite a few violins home to compare with each other. Then I took the ones I had liked the best to my violin teacher (Jenny Oaks Baker) who tried them out herself, and together we narrowed it down to two violins. Both sounded nice, but for different reasons. One of them sounded very bright and happy. It was a newer violin, with beautiful color and without blemish. The other was that old, scarred violin that sounded so rich and sweet. I had a big decision to make.

Over the next couple of days, I switched back and forth playing the two violins trying to decide which one should be mine. The newer violin was quite a bit more expensive (by about $6,000), but everyone else seemed to like its sound just a little bit better, including another girl who was in line behind me to purchase the new violin if I decided not to. My parents were willing to pay for this violin if it was the one I chose.

But for some reason, I just loved everything about the old violin so much more, including the sound. I prayed to know which violin God would have me choose.

I needed to make a decision, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

While we had some family over – I played both of the violins for them and asked them which one they thought sounded better. Again, the new violin was chosen as the better-sounding of the two. I remember thinking to myself, “Fine. I guess this is supposed to be my violin. Everyone else liked its sound better. It is a better violin.” And so I made the decision – the new violin would be my final violin.

As soon as I announced it to everyone, the decision felt so wrong. I left the main area of our house so I could be alone and I cried. I had known from the first time I saw that old violin. It had been confirmed to me over and over again because I had always liked it more than the other violins. And now I would take it back to the shop and never see it again.

My mom noticed I had left the room. She found me crying and tried to calm me. She told me that it was my decision to make and that it seemed that I wasn’t happy with the decision I had made.

She told me to pretend for a minute that we decided to take back the new violin and keep the old violin. She asked how that made me feel?  Peace. What a powerful confirmation that was to my mom and me! God had answered my prayers for a super important decision in my life.

We took that newer violin back to the violin shop we had gotten it from. I had no regrets, no second thoughts.

I have played that old violin ever since.

I am almost 16 now, so I have had that old violin for about 4 years.

As I have pondered about my violin since it was stolen, I have remembered how much it meant to me. I miss it so much. As I was forced to finish out the music tour in Italy playing on a rental violin, I felt like I was betraying a friend. I lost the desire to perform because I wasn’t able to do it with my violin.

A couple of people have tried to comfort me saying “Don’t worry. You’ll get a better one!”. When I hear that, it reminds me of the “better”, newer, unblemished violin that everyone else liked when I was choosing my final violin several years ago. That “better one” was not meant for me. Instead, I found the one that was special to me.

Maylee Robbins, Violinist

The Touch of the Master’s Hand

It has been clear to me as I’ve watched my daughter develop her skills as an aspiring violinist working with an old, redeemed instrument that she has learned how important second chances are, including extra chances given to us every day by our Master, the Savior, to try again to be better, to be a little closer to perfection.

This violin represents to her what it means to have another chance to be better, especially when acted upon by the touch of the Master’s hand.

A Bus “Robbery” The Second Day of Our Italy Tour

My daughter has studied in Korrine Hamblin’s Suzuki violin studio in Nashville, Tennessee for the past three years. Several months ago, Korrine’s mom, LeeAndra Lowe, coordinated a performance tour through Italy by employing a musical tour company called Classical Movements. Classical Movements contracted with Parenti Bus company based in Rome, Italy, to transport the musicians and their families during the tour.

We were told going into the trip that the bus company was very competent at security, and the violinists in the studio were expected to bring their instruments with them. The tour company was supposedly very experienced at keeping musical instruments safe for tour groups in Rome.

We made the mistake of bringing Maylee’s violin, with all of its sentiment and personal meaning, along and blithely expecting that the Parenti Bus company would ensure that it was safe.

On the first day of the tour, Saturday, June 11, 2022, the group returned after lunch to the tour bus, which met us in the parking garage just outside the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. As the first couple members of the group boarded the bus, they found that their belongings weren’t where they left them prior to lunch. As more people boarded the bus, others joined in the discussion, asking where their violins went.

Only after several distraught members of the group came back off the bus in a panic, looking for help to determine whether their instruments might have been placed below the bus, the driver of the bus, an Italian fellow named Antonio, mentioned to our tour guide that he had parked the bus outside of the secure area to avoid paying a $40 parking fee and that he had locked the bus and left it for only 10 minutes to get a sandwich. Antonio said that he noticed that someone may have entered the bus while he was gone, and that they had to have broken into the bus since he had left it locked.

One of the other adults and I asked the bus driver to show us where there was any evidence of a break-in, as there was clearly no damage done to the bus door or any of the area around the door that would indicate someone had tampered with it. As those who had lost their precious belongings, including my daughter, processed the idea that they had been robbed, Antonio showed no sign of remorse, instead casually staring at the group with a shady smirk on his face.

I’m certain that Antonio was involved in the heist. I have tried to figure out how we could get access to his phone to see who he had been communicating with leading up to the theft, but there has been no cooperation from the police or anyone else to simply confiscate his phone to check on that.

I took the video below just after we found out that the instruments and other items were stolen from the bus.

There are several questions that have not been answered about what happened to allow people to get onto the bus and make off with my daughter’s violin along with several others that had sentimental value.

Some Unanswered Questions About What Happened

Parenti Bus claims to have been in the business of doing bus tours in Rome for decades. They claim that the driver has been working for them for many years and that this is the first time something like this has happened.

If that is true, then here are some questions that should be answered…

  • Did the bus driver not understand how common it is for people to steal from tour groups in Rome, and that the area around the Vatican is one of the most common areas of theft?
  • Why did the bus driver decide to park the bus in an unsecured area in an attempt to save the $40 parking fee for the secured area?
  • After parking the bus in an unsecured area, why would this seasoned bus driver then decide to leave the bus unattended?
  • If the bus was actually broken into, why were there no signs of forced entry?

I find it hard to believe what Parenti Bus and the bus driver said about what had happened. I am nearly certain that the bus driver coordinated the theft, and that he knows who took the instruments.

It frustrates me that I don’t know how to get the Rome police or anyone else who might have authority to investigate the bus driver.

Instead, I am trying to work through the Rome music community and related shops, music teachers, etc. to try to track down the missing violin.

Identifying Maylee’s Violin

If you have any connection to Italy or to the music community in Europe, and would like to help us keep an eye out for Maylee’s violin, I’m providing some identifying information that you’re welcome to share with anyone you know in the Rome area or in other parts of Italy, as it’s hard to tell where this instrument might turn up.

A miracle similar to the one we’re hoping for happened, ironically, to the woman who helped Maylee choose her violin. Jenny Oaks Baker’s daughter had her cello stolen in Pisa in 2017, and she was able to get it back with the help of a highly observant and quick-thinking music store owner, who thought it was strange that someone was trying to sell a cello for much less than what he knew it to be worth, and who observed markings on the cello that he was able to identify.

The violin appraisal gives some useful information that can be used to identify the violin.

Through the f-holes of the violin, the name of the violin’s creator, H Emile Blondelet, is visible on a sticker on the back of the violin, as is the word “Paris” and the year 1922. It is possible that the year says 1924 according to the appraisal below. The purchase receipt says 1922, and my daughter remembers that being the year listed on the violin, so there is a good possibility that the year information on the appraisal below is off by two years.

Maker: H Emile Blondelet

Place: Paris

Year: 1922 (possibly 1924)

Here are some close-up images of my daughter’s violin.

In the image below, I have circled the parts of the violin where you can see the “scars” that had been repaired as a part of this violin’s redemption from being damaged.

Here is a second image that shows the violin from a slightly different perspective.

If you have any information that can help us locate this violin, please share it with me using the contact form below.

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  1. Hi there am. Sorry about that your violin was. Stolen. It is part of my life. I hope you get it back soon. Or you can order a new violin good luck

  2. So where do U live? I also love playing the violin at school but if mine was stolen I would be so sad. Hope U can find it

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