Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Subway Station of the Living Dead

OK. Before you do anything else, click here to begin listening to the full recording, available on the Washington Post website, of the greatest performance ever to be ignored.

Here was the Post's idea. Take one of the world's most extraordinary musicians, put him in a subway station during morning rush hour, have him play some of the most transcendent music ever written, and see if anyone notices.

So Joshua Bell, a Grammy award-winning violinist who usually commands around $100 a ticket for live performances, agrees to be the guy. He shleps his $3.5 million made in 1710 Stradivarius to L'enfant Plaza station and plays nonstop for 43 minutes. The acoustics are excellent. He's loud. He's brilliant. The air fills with soaring, beautiful, pure emotion. 1,097 people go rushing by. Exactly seven of them stop to listen.


He earns $32.17. $20 of that is from the one woman who figures out who he is. She'd seen him a few months before at the National Gallery.

I guess everyone else had a train to catch. Read the remarkable story, with video clips of people walking by, at the Washington Post.


Bruce said...

The Saw Lady, who plays musical saw in the NY subway says that he's just not a very good busker. http://sawlady.com/blog/?p=27

It's a skill they don't teach in the conservatory I guess. Though some groups like the Motion Trio from Warsaw paid their way through music college playing on the street. After listening to them, I can see how people would stop and contribute. http://www.motion-trio.art.pl/a2b23c473Gallery.html

Dr. Wes Browning said...

I think you're overestimating the esteem Americans have for talented classical artists. So the guy can play a violin well. He's not playing what they wanted to hear on their way to work.

I got a taste of it this month on the night of the Art Walk in Pioneer Square. I heard some Klezmer out in the streets and ran out of my building to see the band. As I approached the band a woman from my building was coming away from them. When she saw me she said, "Well, it sure isn't country-western, is it?" The tone in her voice and the way she waved her hand back at them said, "Well, I only listen to country-western, so I don't care if this shit is supposed to be good, whatever it is."

I also got that at the gallery. People would look at my paintings and mutter things like, "I'm not into Mayan art," and skip to the next display. If I said to them, it's not Mayan, they'd say, "Whatever." As soon as they saw one piece that wasn't in the narrow range that they defined as art, they were sure none of it could be.

Americans today as a whole (I trust our readers are among the exceptions) aren't only not intellectually curious. They aren't open to new feelings. How do you speak to people whose feelings are closed? Not just closed-minded, but emotionally and experientially closed?