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May 2011
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Ys [userpic]

You know, I often have sort of an elitist attitude, I'll admit.

But reading this article about a world-class violinist playing on the street during rush hour makes me well and truly sad for humanity. I am not big on classical music, but watching the people fail to react...realizing that most people clearly just don't hear what I hear in pretty much any music, much less stuff this full of emotion. Or even worse to contemplate, that they don't care.

Sad. Yeah.

I could write more about this, but I'm too busy just wondering how something that makes me laugh and cry, even in the little samples, badly reproduced, available on The Washington Post's site, could be so alien or unnoticed or whatever to so many people.

Then again, I regularly stop and listen to street musicians, if they're any good, even if they're not playing something I usually listen to. And it's one of the few groups of people on the streets I'll generally give money to. (Really entertaining entertainers will also generally get something.)

Gods now I really want to go dig out one of my instruments just to make some freakin' music, any of it.

Tags: ,
Current Mood: sadsad
Current Music: "Chaconne" from Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor

I'm honestly a little surprised they expected people to stop and listen--they space they chose was deliberately a place filled with people who were trying to get somewhere else. If they'd put him at, say, a farmer's market, or in a park, or outside a coffee shop or probably almost any place but a bus station, they would have saved him the embarrassment of being ignored and saved the reading public this little scolding for not being rapturous enough.

This article pissed me off. The people who set up this experiment were trying to make a point, so they stacked the deck. Yup, people walk right by somebody playing music in the bus station. Is the world going to hell? It is not. Are people soulless automatons? No, they aren't. They had someplace to go, they didn't give a damn about classical music, they were thinking about what to make for dinner or their husband's birthday or how sick their dog was. THEY ARE NOT BAD PEOPLE. gah.

These were a bunch of Washintgon DC bureaucrats, on their way to work. That does seem like stacking the deck a little. Down on the Promenade in Santa Monica they have a lot of street performers, and big crowds gather.

The author said in the Q&A that he suspected that Bell would be ignored, but the other editors thought otherwise.

He has repeatedly asserted, in response to that exact accusation, that he wasn't trying to stack the deck and he explains the reasons for the particular venue (namely, weather and availability of lots of commuters) in the Q&A.

That said, someone responded in the Q&A with this:

A precedent: on the blog @ volinist.com, someone noted:

in Belgium they did a similar experiment. Our own Yossif Ivanov, who had just won 2nd prize in Queen Elisabeth Comp. was asked to play alongside the beach, in summer. People were NOT rushing to work, and were NO Americans. Result: He got just enough money to buy an icecream!

Why do you think it was saying that they were bad people? I didn't get any of that. The writer took pains to get a philosopher-type to say that Kant would say this says exactly nothing about the people involved. From the Q&A:

I'd like to know if anyone else found the tone of this story condescending. I really tried to avoid that. Frankly, I was glad that the Kantian scholar said the results implied nothing about the sophistication of the passersby. It would have been awkward if I'd been forced to conclude that these people were Philistines, because, deep down, I didn't feel as though that was the case.

As the story said, though I DO think the results implied something disturbing about our priorities.

I think it says some very sad things about our world and the way it has been allowed to be structured.

We can never know what they were thinking about, true, but... I think it's still sad that we let ourselves live in a world that forces us to skew our priorities towards worries and obligations instead of joy and experience.

There's a quote near the end of the article:

When he left, Picarello says, "I humbly threw in $5." It was humble: You can actually see that on the video. Picarello walks up, barely looking at Bell, and tosses in the money. Then, as if embarrassed, he quickly walks away from the man he once wanted to be.

Does he have regrets about how things worked out?

The postal supervisor considers this.

"No. If you love something but choose not to do it professionally, it's not a waste. Because, you know, you still have it. You have it forever."

I think that's the most honest thing in the entire thing. I share the views of the other three people who've responded to this: it's a shame that true music is being slowly ignored and thus lost, but like it says in the article, true beauty requires the correct environment to really appreciate.

I think that, no matter the effect or problems or issues brought up by the article, the part that I appreciate the most is the chance to hear Bell play. I can only hope and pray that when I see beauty I'll be able to recognize it.

We don't stop. We're trying to get to work. If it were evening, he might have gotten more of a crowd.

I travel the metro system every day and see similar things. Morning performers have to compete with newspaper hawkers and charity workers. Evening performers sometimes get a crowd, at my stations at least.

There was a classical violinist who played at the bottom of the big escalator up from the PATH trains under the World Trade Center. The mornings when I had time to stop and listen were few and far between (I did toss a dollar or three in the case when I had it handy), but that music always made me slow down just a little, take a deep breath, and smile. I'm sure, most days, I showed little or no outward reaction, especially if I was running late. Inside, however, that music affected me profoundly and is a memory I will carry for the rest of my days.

Another perspective on this:


As for myself, I would have stopped. Even at the risk of being late, I would have stopped. Assuming I actually had cash on me (which is relatively rare), I would have tossed in a few dollars. Because I just don't usually carry cash in excess of about $5 on me anyway, not because of a lack of quality. Bear in mind, however that I used to be a professional musician and classically trained. I would have stopped.

However I expect that most people wouldn't stop. Partially because the deck is stacked, however unintentionally. Partially because you know what? Most people just aren't into classical music, on any level and they aren'tr required to be. But partially because I think that *most* classical music concert goers(note, I did not say classical music LOVERS), which so many of the high-end Washington bureaucrats are, are for the most part, entirely full of shit. That in reality the only thing that separates Joshua Bell from That Random Street Musician is the status they gain from their concert going experience. The truth is they can't tell the difference aurally anyway. They can shell out $500 a ticket, because of course he's good, and DAMN but that looks good on paper. But they wouldn't know a world class violinist if he came and shoved his bow up their ass.

So when the experience of status is removed from the equation, Joshua Bell is just a yutz with a fiddle.

THAT is the real elitism at work there.

Re: Another perspective on this:

"they can't tell the difference aurally anyway"

Isn't this true for most people who haven't been trained to do so? We know that it can take some training, or at least a lot of varied exposure, to recognize great literature and visual art, so I'd think it would be the same with music.

Maybe the reactions are more a statement on how little art appreciation we teach than on where our priorities (as a nation/world) lie.

Re: Another perspective on this:

Yes, which is my point really. I said "concert goers" rather than "music lovers" because music lovers would be able to tell. Concert goers, particularly classical ones are not made up of as many music lovers as you might think. Often it's people who are there for the status that "having tickets to the symphony" brings them and nothing more. They wouldn't know good from bad if it bit them- the only reason they claim to know is because of what their very expensive tickets tell them.

It's not about the music for them. It's about being able to wear a formal gown/tux and have your photo taken with the right people. They wouldn't stop because Joshua Bell isn't on stage and they didn't pay $500 to see him there. So he's de facto demoted to "some yutz with a fiddle."

Re: Another perspective on this:

I was going to say some of the same things (belatedly, I know--I'm pretty permanently 2 weeks behind with my f-page). With maybe less condemnation. Getting to work on time is important in our society. A value I approve of, actually. Minimizing engagement with others in the streets and on public transit is both necessary self-protection and politeness, in a city. A value I also approve of, though I violate it with smiles more than most. THe acoustics of a bus station--or for that matter the open air, or NYC subway platforms--don't suit classical violin (though bagpipes do great). And as someone said below, classical music requires a trained ear--telling the difference bwteeen a good performance and an adequate one is not merely a matter of taste, let alone a matter of "having good taste" as opposed to preferring the esthetics of, say. rap. (I deplore the use of classical music as a teenager deterrant in malls and convenience stores, but that should give anyone pause who is going to argue that failure to be bowled over by masterly classical violin playing is a failing.)

*pauses to put Sibelius symphony CD in the work music player, since it's 6 am on Sunday and the radio station has just embarked on its weekly dose of talk. Customer, who was tolerating classic rock, immediately clears out.*

There also seems to be a rather narrow definition of excellence even beyond the unexplored assumptions about Art Music. I've heard some very fine performers in the NYC subways, but I'd bet the classical ones were still students--it's a time-honored way to make a buck while practising, and also to work on performing for an audience--and not established Performers. They might well have been just as good as Joshua Bell.

And . . . I almost hate to say this in view of some of the comments above, but I almost never had either money or time to give to those performers. And it's the rare busker--and never, ever a beggar--who makes me consider doing so. I reckon many of New York's street performers make more than I ever did. Certainly Joshua Bell does. And nobody has an obligation to give to a busker. In fact some of them, like many TV and sports stars, I wish I could take some of their ill-gotten gains. (And yes, there are a few NYC subway performers who make their money promising to shut up if they get money.)