A BETTER CLASS OF BUSKER
What happens when Joshua Bell, one of the world's finest violinists, sets up
shop in a Washington metro station? Er, not a lot:
A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the
performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.
You can watch some of the responses on video embedded in a thought-provoking
article about the pace of daily life and how we respond to beauty:
"It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah . . ." The word doesn't
come easily. ". . . ignoring me."
Bell is laughing. It's at himself.
"At a music hall, I'll get upset if someone coughs or if someone's cell phone
goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate
any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone
threw in a dollar instead of change." This is from a man whose talents can
command $1,000 a minute.
Leonard Slatkin, the conductor, had made his own prediction about what would
happen. He was way off the mark:
I don't think that if he's really good, he's going to go unnoticed. He'd get a
larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is
there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75
to 100 will stop and spend some time listening."
Some people, in fact, didn't even hear a note:
...Myint works for the General Services Administration. He got to the top of the
escalator, turned right and headed out a door to the street. A few hours later,
he had no memory that there had been a musician anywhere in sight.
"Where was he, in relation to me?"
"About four feet away."
There's nothing wrong with Myint's hearing. He had buds in his ear. He was
listening to his iPod.
Would I have stopped to listen? I'm not sure. If it had been outside, then yes,
I would definitely have paused. But in the concourse itself I might easily have
been put off by all the background noise. Violins and trains aren't a perfect
match, after all.
How much of our response to art and beauty is
based on a natural resonance to aesthetics (the intrinsic values of First Order
Intelligence) and how much is based on being
programmed by the stories of what is 'good art' or 'beauty' (Second Order
Intelligence))? What if that natural resonance gets replaced with mediocre
If you were one of the passers-by and heard
Joshua Bell disguised as a 'street musician' might your ears have communicated
that there was great music to stop and attend to? Or might your programming have
communicated to you that it was only a 'street musicians,' someone not
worth listening to?