"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Savage Beasts: Not To Be Soothed

Violinist Joshua Bell participated in an experiment for the Washington Post. He agreed to play at a subway station during the morning rush hour to see how many people would stop to listen. Predictions varied, but Bell, who is one of the world's greatest violinists, did not expect to be all but ignored. Only a few people stopped to listen at all, and two of those had played the violin themselves. He made approximately $50.

Comments ranged from, he would have made more money playing in the park on nice day, to, the Washington Post illustrated its own point by speeding up the video so that you can't listen to the music, to, nobody notices much, anyway.

Here is my story: One evening, as I was walking uptown from a job in the Wall Street area, I saw a rainbow that stretched across the East River, framing the Brooklyn Bridge. It was dazzling. Of the thousand or so people streaming around me on the pavement, going home, only one other person stopped to look, and it turned out to be someone I knew.

I do think however, that if Bell played on the green in Woodstock, NY, near where I now live, not only would much of the town shut down to listen, but the local hand drummers would probably join in, as well as whoever else was hanging on the green that day and had their guitars.


Anonymous said...

There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog: www.SawLady.com/blog
She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters... I thought you might find it interesting.

Zen of Writing said...

She thinks he's just not a good street performer -- I'm inclined to think it's more the nature of the space and the music. Rushing subway commuters and classical violin -- if they can ignore that level of virtuosity, I doubt anyone could do better. I'm not sure any street performer could draw a standing crowd during rush hour, when everyone stands to look bad by being late.

If it were U2, that'd be another story. (U2 he ain't?)