In the continuing spirit of being late in commenting on everything ever, I would now like to talk about Josh Bell's performance at a Metro station in Washington DC. The Washington Post asked him to play on the street to see if the average person would "recognize genius out of context."
You know, there is a part of me thinking if a few things had been different that morning, more people would have stopped. If it had been later than crack-of-dawn 7:30am, if it had been a weekend, if the station was in a less workers-only area, if he had found some less hectic commuters more walkers spot, if he had chatted up a bit or played some tunes from that Appalachian folky CD he and YoYo Ma did that one time, if if if.
But you know what?
Classical musicians have got to be kidding if they think the average person is familiar AT ALL with what it is they do for a living. I would have been really interested to hear what each of the commuters' experience has been with music. Did they get any classical in childhood? Did they ever get to play any intrument, let alone a stringed instrument? Have they ever listened to classical music while not in the produce section? Even if they were thick in it and loved every CD Bell has ever made, would their commute leave time for them to stop? Do they think busking is no different than panhandling and refuse to stop on principle?
Just showing up in a busy commuter space and expecting fawning is ridiculous. The article implies that a mom pulling her 3 year-old past Bell is unintentionally choking the art out of his little life. Um, even if Viktoria Mullova, David Perry, Edgar Meyer, Tabea Zimmerman and Bjork were all jamming in my driveway, if I had to go to work and provide for Toby, I'd have to go to work. I might need some medication and a large box of tissues once I got there, but I'd go.
This, however, bears no reflection on either the performers or my ability to appreciate them. I don't think it's clear that people in a hurried grimy commuter space failing to deviate from their routine in the presence of greatness are necessarily shunning said greatness. I'm not convinced this experiment provides commentary on missing out on the beauty in life. It wasn't just the context of the location: it was the context of the purpose of that space. I guess as far as the article goes I'm a Kant-er.
So while I don't think this experiment really proves it, it is true that the average person on the street doesn't know great classical music, and they miss out on some of the most incredible, complex expression of human creativity because of it. These commuters are the people in the prime working years of their lives. I wonder what the classical scene will be like over the next decades as music and art is continually diminished in public schools. I hope the transformation to an obscure cult-following art is slowed or reversed, and that Josh Bell figures out how to show people what is so amazing about what he does for a living.