April 10, 2007

Pulling On The Strings of Our World

Pearls Before Breakfast

Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.

Unbelievably talented Joshua Bell playing a street musician in the DC metro. I found this story fascinating. Some of the interviews with the people who passed him by were interesting, but I was most interested up to the point when you find out what happened, over all, during rush hour, and how different people reacted.

I love that Partita no. 3.

Posted by James at April 10, 2007 12:59 AM
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I read this story over the weekend (I believe the same guy wrote a long article several years ago about a city in Nevada he described as America's armpit). Although I can't say I'm surprised that Bell didn't get a huge crowd and a ton of handouts during the morning rush hour, I am a little disappointed that he didn't at least fare better than some random lunatic preaching about the rapture.

Posted by: julie at April 10, 2007 1:33 AM

I wept.

Posted by: Chuck S. at April 10, 2007 9:49 AM

I keep playing the movie just so I can hear the violin. I think I played it about 10 times after 1 AM.

I can only guess whether you were weeping for the world's soul, or weeping from music-induced emotion. I know I would be close to tears if I encountered this on the way into work.

Posted by: James at April 10, 2007 10:04 AM

Mostly the former, a little of the latter. It's depressing to see what our current values and system of surviving do to us culturally.

Posted by: Chuck S. at April 10, 2007 12:08 PM

Yep... I have the Bach sonatas and partitas as played by Rachel Podger, and the partita #3 is the one I've put on my laptop for playing in the office. It's everyone's fave.

Posted by: Barry Leiba at April 10, 2007 9:46 PM

I finally read this story, and I'm not sure that this experiment illustrates that we're all too busy to stop and smell the roses.

Many people simply don't like classical music, and I doubt if most people could tell the difference between a violin virtuoso and simply a very good violinist. I don't know if I could. The people who stopped and listened were trained violinists themselves.

I do think our lives are too hectic, but I think most of us could buy a lot less stuff and do fewer activities and simplify our lives significantly. Not everyone, of course. And not everyone wants to. But I look around my town, for example, and I see people driving themselves and their children (mostly their children) to the brink of insanity with activities. They live in "McMansions," as Lefty says, and they drive cars that they don't need to drive, and their kids take golf and tennis and two instruments and they belong to church groups and they ski and they're going on vacations and spending all their spare time in the mall, and I know that lifestyle would drive me insane. I personally want my children to come home, have a snack, relax, play, do their homework, have a home-cooked dinner, practice their instruments, and if there's time, relax together as a family. If not, at least they've played together and they can get to bed at a decent hour (in theory, in practice nobody in my family needs 8 hours of sleep but me).

If I were going somewhere I had to be, such as work, I would have no time to stop and listen to the violinist. I'm pretty sure my students would walk out after 10 minutes -- I remember that was the rule when I was an undergrad. If it were a weekend, or he was playing in a park, that would be a different situation.

I'm not really sure what this story was intending to illustrate, or if it successfully did so.

Posted by: Maggie at April 15, 2007 4:24 PM

I think "experiment" is used metaphorically, because it's open to a good bit of interpretation exactly what it illustrates. "Intending to illustrate" is probably taking the experiment metaphor too far. I don't there was any hypothesis. Just "let's see what happens."

One could say that it says something about value, and how people measure it.

Or maybe it's simply whether they recognize something out of context. I have seen many instances when context had a dramatic difference in perception.

There are a lot of things we could conclude. I don't think it would be wise to be firm in any conclusions from this one incident. We can only say that this illustrates the way the world is in the DC metro.

I found it fascinating because I thought more people would stop. I thought music of that caliber would, if not be recognized for its extrinsic value, speak to people on a more level that moved people. I thought that's what music did. But maybe music doesn't just reach into your soul. I don't know.

I bet if they threw money on the floor, people would recognize that.

Posted by: James at April 15, 2007 7:17 PM

Not all music reaches into all souls, Happy Feet. If he'd been playing jazz, I couldn't have run out of there fast enough. (Not all jazz, but you know what I mean.) Apparently one person who worked in Washington for several years said that street musicians generally don't play in the morning, because people are in too much of a rush.

I didn't think it was a clinical experiment, but there was some hint at conclusions in the article that I don't think were necessarily demonstrated.

Posted by: Maggie at April 16, 2007 11:43 AM

I felt badly for the kid who wanted to stay and listen, but his mom dragged him away and even tried to block his view. I'm not saying I blame her - I'm sure they had placed to go - but I still felt badly for the kid.

Posted by: Julie at April 16, 2007 12:17 PM

That's funny, Julie, I felt bad for the mother. She said she had to get him to school and then she had to get to work. Hustling children around sucks.

Posted by: Maggie at April 16, 2007 12:18 PM

By the way, sorry to post again, but children can be distracted by anything. They're far more observant than adults, and are fascinated by all kinds of things. I saw a mother walking in the rain with her daughter into a store the other day, and she was trying to get her to stop jumping on the spots of tar in the road. It was raining and mom just wanted to get into the store, but the little girl was jumping from tar spot to tar spot. Not very efficient. LOL. Children are used to being refocused all the time.

Posted by: Maggie at April 16, 2007 12:20 PM

I would like to see a follow-up experiment where they have him play in a public space like a park or at a fountain during lunch time.

As a person with a long and involved commute, I have to say I don't usually stop and listen to subway musicians (some of them, like the loud guitarist who shouts out the SAME SONGS every day, are just awful). There is one guy with a flugelhorn who is quite good and I've given him money, but because I see him almost every day, it's awkward to give frequently. He plays while I wait for my train, so yes, I stop and listen.

There's also a duo I see less frequently now, but they used to be regulars at Alewife--a guitarist and a sax player. The guitarist used to play with another guy, and they regularly murdered "Take 5," but the new sax player did the trick. And yes, I've given them money, and just with the flugelhorn dude, I listen to them while I wait for my train.

I'll bet there would have been a crowd and more money given if Bell had played in an outside public space at a time when people had more time. It's diffucult to get too weepy and soul searching about what we [don't] value in society when you know darned well people are running to catch a train that might not come again in time to get to work.

Posted by: Patti M. at April 16, 2007 12:48 PM

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