Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

What Would You Have Done?

From the Washington Post, via Miss Snark, comes this fascinating experiment: what happens when an amazingly talented, critically praised, world reknown classical violinist -- who rates standing ovations in concert halls around the globe -- performs for 43 minutes in a subway station during a Friday morning rush hour in Washington DC? On a Stradivarius, no less.

The article is long but wonderful to read, and it includes discussions of art, music, context and perception, along with four separate video snippets from the performance/experiment. The results were sad, if not predictable.

I'd like to think that if I had been there I would have stopped (especially for the Bach) and listened. At the end of the piece I would have applauded loudly and shouted "Bravo!" a couple of times, not caring about the opinions of the anonymous commuters flowing around me. One fact of life in suburbia is that the music of my commute issues from the car radio. I only encounter street musicians on vacation, so when I do it's not in the context of the everyday hustle and bustle. Still, I would like to think that I would have noticed. What about you?


At Sun Apr 08, 12:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing, depressing article. Here's a quote from it to add to your words:

"If we can't take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?"

What else are we missing, indeed?

At Sun Apr 08, 01:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to think that I would have stopped, but I don't know that I would. So conditioned have I been to ignore buskers that I probably would have breezed right on through in my own little world. This despite the fact that I listen to almost nothing but classical music while I'm reading or writing.

It'd be like missing Jimi Hendrix perform, really.

At Sun Apr 08, 06:13:00 PM, Blogger jmb said...

Thank you so much for that link. It is indeed a wonderful article. Interesting what effect the whole experience had on Bell himself.

At Sun Apr 08, 07:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I would have stopped - I usually do when a street performer is interesting/good. I stopped just the other day in Balboa Park in San Diego to listen to a guy play the digeree do - he was pretty good and his commentary on the music and instrument was even better.

Many years ago, back when I was in high school, I happened to be wandering around Lincoln Center when I came across a guy playing Bach on of all things, a marimba. (I have no idea how he managed to lug the thing around.) He was absolutely amazing and I probably listened for an hour. I think I gave him $20 or something like that.

Some years after I was listening to some NPR show talking about this amazing new percussionist named Brian Slawson and his new album "Bach on Wood". The piece talked about how his passion was playing Bach and how he had financed his studies at Julliard by street performances. I wrote down his name and the name of the ablum. This was before the web existed, back in the days when getting unusual albums could be very difficult. I eventually got some store to order it and when I heard it it was obviously the same guy I had heard on the street. (I later confirmed it when, if memory serves, I saw his picture on his second album Distant Drums.)

I can still remember listening to him that day in Lincoln Center though.

Interestingly, Slawson seemed to almost disappear after Distant Drums, but I just did a google search and it seems he's back with a new web site,, and a new album X Classics. I'll be ordering a copy momentarily...

P.S. I'm a software engineer but I used play to the piano, organ, and trumpet.

At Mon Apr 09, 10:56:00 AM, Blogger Julie VW said...

Yes. I would have noticed (and I'd like to think I'd have been brave enough to approach him and say "Thank you." But I'd probably just have hidden in the corner and watched).

A few years ago Joshua Bell was an Artistic Partner with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. At that time, I was working right across the street from the orchestra's administrative offices, and used to daydream about running into him on the street. (Alas, it never happened, but a girl can dream!)

At Mon Apr 09, 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Bookhorde said...

I would have stopped -- I come from a culture that appreciates music.
Btw, reading that article made me cry, literally. Overwhelming sense of alienation from current society.

At Mon Apr 09, 02:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I did do:

There was a violinist playing at the far end of a subway car in which I was riding recently. I watched him, fascinated that his bowing was smooth and accurate, even as the car lurched and jostled while in motion. He played beautifully some Bach, although it was difficult to hear nuance over the din of the train's progress. I watched him as he packed up his case and exited through the far doors. I didn't notice anyone else watching, and no one applauded. I was stunned, as usually the performers in the cars are doing gymanstics (I kid you not) or are selling/fundraising/preaching. As one who has lingered when street performers are playing classical music, I can't imagine that I would have walked on by. How dreadful!

At Mon Apr 09, 08:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Dino (and others)

The author has a discussion article about this article available here, that's worth reading.

At Sun Apr 15, 09:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a bunch of crap! It was totally predictable that people wouldn't stop. Thank goodness there are still people who value timeliness and get their butts off to work without pausing to stare at grass growing. I'm sure the gentleman really can play. But this kind of "experiment" with its pre-ordained conclusion to once again heap abuse on Americans is worthless and I hope the author slips in his bathtub and drowns because the 911 operator was fawning over some guy playing a violin at rush hour.


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