April 08, 2007

Joshua Bell as street musician. The Washington Post sets up a social experiment whereby the famous virtuoso performs anonymously for spare change at a DC metro stop. What happens? Tune in for the exciting conclusion!

Nobody really seems to notice.

  • And yet there's something beautiful in the fact that life simply goes on in the midst of all this as well...
  • It sounded not good to me. I'm not a huge fan of the violin in a good space, but this metro station was particularly bad. See also Damon Gough's busking in London.
  • I like to think that i'm exquisitly sensitive to the finer things in life, but I know that if I were walking through that Metro stop I would have been getting into work mode - planning my day, prioritising the stuff in my queue, trying to find solutions to problems that slopped over - so that I was concentrating on that rather than on my surroundings. Concentration is a wonderful thing in a work environment since it cuts out the distractions. (I remember that,in one of my early jobs, my boss asked me about a conflagration between the president of the company and his administrative assistant. I was concentrating so well that it completely escaped me, and I love gossip-able events.) So, yeah, they needed more tourists who had time to stop, maybe, or a time and venue where folks had more leisure to become entranced by the wonderful concert they were offered. Seems a bit as though they set him up for failure.
  • The moral of the story is Don't get so caught up in everday life As to miss the beauty That surrounds you
  • But, Argh, sometimes the beauty of everyday life is in your job. And, maybe, the beauty of listening to a master play a violin is in sitting in a place dedicated to appreciating music, and special because it's not an everyday experience.
  • I too subscribe to Kant's view that beauty requires proper context. Few things are intrinsically beautiful: rather, the appreciation of beauty requires training, discipline, and patience, not one of which is in ample supply during the morning commute.
  • "The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too." At least part of that is going to be my new email signature quote.
  • both hilarious and depressing
  • It is definitely about context. The vast majority of the public has little ability to discern artistic value in a setting devoid of clues as to their expected role or response. I've experienced this many times where I have given a concert and received an enthusiastic ovation only to play the same music with the same band in a club date setting only to be completely ignored. In my work with the Capitol Steps we experience this weekly. We'll sell out a big place like the Pabst Theater in Milwauke with standing ovations only to play for a corporate event in the same town and receive tepid or no reaction to the same material and cast. My hat is off to the guy who recognized the value of the art without recognizing Bell. OTOH, Bell's choice of the weighty and often ponderous Chaccone was perhaps not the most crowd pleasing selection. I would have been curious to see if there had been an improvement in crowd response had he essayed something flashier like the Paganini Caprices.
  • That article was amazing.
  • So the people who appreciated him were: a) a curious little kid (who might have been straining to hear someone on a synthesiser punching out the Blue Danube in off-time - because I would) b) two people who studied violin, and recognised talent/skill c) someone who recognised him d) one person who just really liked it, knowing nothing else (and not being three). This does make me think that I was right when I thought that the vast majority of us have ceiling effects when it comes to good music/art/food. If you aren't a professional or highly trained, there is a point when things are so good, they all seem the same. Personally, to me, all skilled violinists - university students, professionals, even some buskers - sound equally brilliant. People with keener ears than mine tell me there is a difference, but I don't hear it. Same goes for opera singers - my husband can hear when some are better than others, but I don't hear it. So I'm just as happy at the free student concert as I would be at a $100 a ticket professional one. It's not just the context - I've stopped and listened to subway musicians a million times (I think I appreciate music more, in that ugly, stressful place). Toronto actually has pretty high quality subway music, though the level of skill increases the closer you are to downtown. Many have gathered crowds, though rarely as large as the crowd I saw around an entire string ensemble in Paris. But I really don't think that most people can hear the difference between the best violinist in the world and every other violinist who is still skilled and into the music and everything. (I'm not saying there isn't a difference, but that we don't hear it.) Actually, one of my favorite Toronto musicians was this strange Russian violinists who played Blue Danube much too fast and maybe not perfectly, but with such energy and pizazz and love of life that it whirled me away. I've lost his audio tape, but I still grin stupidly remembering. (I was shocked when one of the people listening said the player was playing the music like he felt it, and that other musicians didn't. I've never heard a musician play mechanically - they all engage in the music.) -------------- roryk - were you there that day, or do you just know the station?
  • > roryk - were you there that day, or do you just know the station? Neither: it just seems to me from the footage that it sounded awful.
  • HIs biggest mistake was not playing "Turkey in the Straw." Fastest way to lose a crowd. Deedle-deep-deedle-deedle-deedle-deedle-deedle-deep, deedle-deep-deep-deedle-deedle-deedle-dee-deep...
  • it just seems to me from the footage that it sounded awful The article mentions an "agreeable acoustic". Impossible to tell from the poorly recorded (from a fidelity perspective anyways) clips.
  • His choice of music may have had a significant effect. I like Baroque, but it's usually not very toe-tapping or crowd pleasing. The Ave Maria is always a favorite - he could have tried some Pachabel's canon, but you really need to do that in a round to be good. Dreadnought and I did see a great string ensemble in the Paris Metro, which did gather a crowd - we thought it likely they were students, because they were all pretty young looking, and there were quite a few. They were great musicians, but also stuck to very energetic and crowd-pleasing pieces.
  • I think I saw those same guys back in November -- unless starving-student string quartets are the new Peruvian pan flute bands...
  • I hear all kinds of bands playing in La Sorbonne whenever I pass through it. They're mostly harps and cellos, but one does hear the occasional violin or accordion. Musical ensembles often climb aboard the RER-B line within city limits, and I always toss them some change. They're much better than the dozen other varieties of annoying panhandlers on the public transit systems here.
  • Agreed, context is all. That said, the whole experiment sounded snooty and a little deserving of some humility. Also second TUM on the "Turkey in the straw" thing. Absolutely. Also he should have danced while he played. People like that.
  • Anyone else seen The Red Violin? That guy's amazing. I'm just impressed that he agreed to take this gig.
  • > Dreadnought and I did see a great string ensemble in the Paris Metro People who "officially" play in the Metro/RATP stations undergo an interview & audition process to get a three month or six month license. It's a good earner if you can get licensed, but there are many many more applying than are successful. The people who play on the trains are not licensed and vary a lot in quality. Some of the worst accordion music in the world is available on metro line 5.