Can one of the nation's great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour?

Reply Tue 20 Jan, 2009 01:56 pm
Attached is an article that speaks volumes about letting life pass us by (or rather, us passing life by). I read this right before work today, and it really threw a kink in my day.

This is worth the 10 minutes it will take you to read it.

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Frank Apisa
Reply Tue 20 Jan, 2009 02:37 pm
What a spectacular article, Map...absolutely beautiful to read and to watch the tapes.

Strange world.

There are people who would hire Michelangelo to paint a barn red.

I remember talking a couple of friends into accompanying my wife and me on a boat ride up the Hudson...a jazz cruise. We go on these cruises three, four times every summer. The view of Manhattan and the Jersey city skyline is breathtaking...especially in the early evening when the cruise was happening. The working boats and the sail boats are terrific...and the statue of Liberty at the mouth of the harbor knocks you out.

One of the guys just complained about everything...and had his back on the vista for almost the entire time. He just did not know how to enjoy something like that.


I'm one of those suckers who gives money to street musicians all the time...especially in Central Park.

Here are some in Washington Square Park:


This one is in the ellipse surrounding the statue of Alice in Central Park:


The Harbor with the sail boats:


Lady Liberty:
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Reply Tue 20 Jan, 2009 04:41 pm
You're right! It was well worth the 10 minutes it took to read it.

I'm still dumbfounded that so few people stopped to listen.

I confess -- I stop to listen to most decent street musicians. Never had the good luck to run into this kind of a free concert though.
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Diest TKO
Reply Wed 21 Jan, 2009 12:49 am
I used to do street dancing when I was younger. I wasn't the worlds greatest, but people still stopped to appreciate it. Even when we'd breakdance in my friends driveway on cardboard boxes and rolled out linoleum floor, we'd have cars just stop and watch.

People take the time. DC is a busy city, and a self centered one at that, but it may not be the best setting to see if people slow or stop to breathe in life.

Great article though.

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Reply Thu 12 Feb, 2009 08:34 pm
Just thought I'd bump this....I'm pissed about America destroying itself from the inside out and re-reading this re-focused my mind. Maybe it could help others who might not have seen it yet.
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Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 01:06 pm
Oh, not this silly Joshua Bell experiment again. This article has caused a lot of hand-wringing in the classical music world, but I don't buy it. I don't see what was proved by asking commuters to choose between Great Art and arriving to work on time.

Here's the most perceptive take on the "experiment," courtesy of Richard Taruskin in a New Republic article:

But of course it was hardly an experiment. All concerned knew perfectly well that people at rush hour are preoccupied with other things than arts and leisure, and would not break their stride. But the fulfillment of the self- fulfilling prophecy gave Weingarten the pretext he sought, in an article titled "Pearls Before Breakfast," to cluck and tut, to quote Kant and Tocqueville, and to carry on as if now we knew what really happened at Abu Ghraib.

Bloggers took up the refrain. Notice, wrote one, that "all the children wanted to stop and listen. They knew. But their parents kept them moving on. Sadly it reminds me of an occasion when children wanted to stop and listen to Christ but his disciples didn't let them."

...My hat goes off to one Ben H., a netizen who saw through it all. "Perhaps the Post could do a whole series of articles about philistines ignoring Joshua Bell's sublime music-making in different locations," he suggested:

1. Outside a burning building (not one fireman stopped to listen!)
2. At a car crash site (one paramedic actually pushed him aside!)
3. During a graduation exam (shushed by the invigilators!)
4. At a school play (thrown out by angry parents!)
5. On an airport runway (passing jet liners seemed oblivious!)
Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 01:26 pm
I disagree.

I think if it had been a famous face that a crowd would have gathered quickly. I'll bet if Mick Jagger stood out there strumming his guitar and singing that an unmanagable crowd would show up
Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 02:38 pm
That is possible. But, for one thing, I doubt Mick Jagger would have had the "hypnotic" effect on the tender and sensitive children who, as Weingarten imagines he's proven, clearly understand the transcendent beauty of Art better than us rat-race adults.

For another thing, Mick Jagger's physical persona is inseparable from the music he performs, and fans of the Rolling Stones are not expected to appreciate their music in a disembodied, abstract sense. The musical culture Mick Jagger represents is not one that prides itself on transcending mass appeal--quite different from the way in which classical musicians demand their art to be appreciated. In Weingarten's words, "The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls." That is why it is disingenuous of a classical musician to define his or her art by an appeal to something more than mere recognition, and then chide audiences for not recognizing Joshua Bell or J.S. Bach. Until rock n' roll depends on a similar flattering of a listener's sophistication, Mick Jagger won't be a proper analogy.
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Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 03:03 pm
Oh. I'm sorry. When you said...

choose between Great Art and arriving to work on time

... I assumed you were saying people didn't stop because it was rush hour and they were trying to get to work.

My point was people would happily be late for work if they saw Mick Jagger giving a free concert in the subway station. I believe he would draw a large crowd.
Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 04:40 pm
Yes, I agree that Mick Jagger would succeed where Joshua Bell failed, but not simply because more people know who he is and/or because more people like his music. It's also, I think, because Mick Jagger represents a kind of music that encourages active rather than passive engagement. That is virtually what distinguishes "entertainment" from "art," and that is what I take to be the point of the Washington Post's experiment. Suppose Mick Jagger had played at rush hour and gotten no response. I don't think rock musicians would take this as a sign that rock music no longer has any bearing on the lives of the average Joe, or that the average Joe is now incapable of appreciating great rock music because of the nefarious influence of Corporate America. I think rock musicians would concede that maybe rush hour isn't the best place to test the aesthetic sophistication of audiences, and would probably consider different ways of entering listeners' lives.

Weingarten, like most defenders of Great Art, seems less willing to make concessions or to place the onus on makers as much as listeners. He wanted a pretext for lamenting the dumbing down of culture in a way that places the blame on consumers rather than makers. The experiment was to take a type of music that appeals to passive contemplation and the recognition of the inherent value of abstract musical structures, and to place this music in a situation where passers-by can be counted on to be preoccupied with more pressing matters. That is why I don't think the Mick Jagger analogy works. The experiment was designed to produce a diagnosis of the way classical music's values are promoted and received, which has little bearing on the way values are construed in other musics.

So yes, I was claiming that the experiment was asking commuters to choose between Great Art and arrive to work on time, but I also claim that this proved nothing about the tragic neglect of Great Art--except perhaps to show how disingenuous it is to blame that neglect solely on consumers and not makers.
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