Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Oh My God!

(Appended more thoughts towards the end - April 11, 2007))

The Washington Post set this up:

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.

Source: Pearls Before Breakfast - washingtonpost.com

It's a wonderfully written story about what happened next--and what didn't. And some delightful insights woven into the text.

Even at this accelerated pace, though, the fiddler's movements remain fluid and graceful; he seems so apart from his audience -- unseen, unheard, otherworldly -- that you find yourself thinking that he's not really there. A ghost.

Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.

It's wonderful that Joshua Bell agreed to participate in this experiment.

I wish this performance is soon released on DVD!


Upon thinking some more, I'd say that Joshua Bell did rather well with the audience.

  1. Do street musicians make more than $40 an hour? Except, perhaps, some exceptional ones like Jim Grasec or Lorenzo LaRock that SawLady mentions in Is Joshua Bell a Good Busker? $40 an hour isn't too bad for someone who isn't skilled at busking.
  2. Joshua played music that was unfamiliar for the audience.
  3. He also played music that was unsuitable for busking. Most commuters probably heard a small portion from a complex composition. Would that be satisfying? Obviously there was no applause at the end.
  4. Joshua Bell isn't a street musician. But this was a Metro station. It is unfair to expect people to pay as much for street food as they would pay at a fine dining restaurant. How much would you pay for one sushi roll while running to work? (Coffee is different. You might actually pay more!)

Given a little more time, Joshua may have collected an appreciative crowd and his next 40 minutes would have likely earned a far higher amount.

Maybe someone who had the opportunity to hear him for an hour would drop $50 dollars. Yes, that's still less than the price of a concert seat, but then it wasn't a concert situation.

Which reminds me of very enjoyable "concerts" every Saturday some 20 years ago in Bombay. A group of people (older age group, well-dressed and knowledgeable about classical music--mostly from the Parsi community) would collect in a large hall for an hour of recorded classical music, played on concert grade audio equipment.

If you closed your eyes, did it matter that the musicians weren't actually out there? It was the same sound. And the yes, people avoided coughing or shuffling their feet while the music played. They even restrained themselves from clapping till the notes of the final movement of a symphony died down.



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.

Sunil Bajpai said...

Thanks for pointing me to SawLady's blog. She does present an interesting perspective.

I've added some more thoughts by expanding the original post.

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