Thursday, May 17, 2012

That Joshua Bell in the D.C. Metro Story

CounterPuncher Kathleen Peine retells it — Joshua Bell in the DC Metro Station. Her retelling:
    A guy in jeans and a baseball cap shows up to play violin music for cash. It’s a busy Washington DC Metro station, and he plays about 45 minutes of Bach. A couple thousand people go by, but only 6 stop for a passing moment. When the music ends, there is no visible response from anyone. Children passing had tried to stop and listen, but their parents, without fail, shoved them past, hurrying them to their destinations. That’s really not a very remarkable story at this point, is it?

    But the rest of the tale becomes a little unbelievable so I did some due diligence to verify that it really happened–and it did. Here are the details, many found in an old Washington Post article, not just from that email that sparked this.

    The man playing the violin was Joshua Bell. I don’t know much about these things, but evidently people who like to categorize think he is among the best classical musicians in America. Just okay seats at his concerts go for $100, and they sell out.

    The violin itself is part of the story. Handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari, it is reported to be of almost supernatural acoustic beauty. The original varnish is something of a mystery, but it’s thought to contribute to the perfection of the sound. That and the amazing wood that is imbued with the clarity of a glacier–an unintentional gift from the Little Ice Age.

    From the cold mists that made that violin possible to ethereal fingers flying- unimaginably rare treasures combined to serenade those individuals hurrying to places like cubicles. And overwhelmingly, they did not stop.

    This brings to mind how little value we place on something of exquisite beauty if there isn’t a corresponding high price to go along with it. You can bet those individuals who purchased pricey tickets to Bell’s concerts bragged at work about them. Yet only the children really seemed to want to stay and enjoy him in the DC Metro.
My first question is, what are the acoustics like down there? My second question is, what if he had played in a location more conducive to stopping and listening?

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Blogger Pints in NYC said...

Timely. Today the issue of subway musicians was in the NYC papers.

And , I was discussing comparisons between the NYC Subway and DC Metro in one of my classes today as well.

Then you post this. Looks like something is "in tune".

To answer your question: the DC Metro acoustics are pretty good. But the NYC Subway has much lower ceilings and ceramic tile, so we'd likely get better sound here.

I've heard some pretty good acts on the NYC Subway stations. Thing is, when you're down there, it's to get a train in a hurry - not to hang out.

Free, impromptu performances on random street corners and obscure parks would be a much better thing.

May 17, 2012 at 11:26 PM  

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