Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Ripping up Concertos at the Harvard T stop"

Music was integrated into the church, moved into the concert halls, opera houses, private rooms, and eventually onto a digital device. What has managed to stay prevalent throughout history is the art of street performance – an art form that has grown to become a meaningful and powerful form of expression.

While many musical experiences been modified, street performance has maintained its methodology (the musician finds a pitch, and sets aside an object for gratuities). The context is also unique compared to other performance practices. The musician often performs in public, usually providing a welcoming atmosphere for pedestrians and/or tourist – these are general observations.

In a stunt organized by The Washington Post, the classical violinist Joshua Bell played as an incognito street busker at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington D.C. on 12 January 2007. Of the 1,097 people who passed by, only one recognized him and only a couple more were drawn to his music. For his nearly 45 minute performance, Bell collected $32.17 (not counting $20 from the passerby who recognized him). He did this using a Stradivarius violin valued at around $2,000,000.” (Wikipedia, Street Performance)

It is an interesting state of affairs for street musicians. Not only do they exercise musicianship, but within their context, the embedded passion, authenticity, and humility are some of the underlying principles that provide the foundations of a street musician; a unique performance. The Joshua Bell experiment proved that you can be regarded as one of the greatest musicians in the world, but when placed back into a society where everyone is a critic; degradation ensues.

The fourth wall of the concert hall does not exist, which enables a more intimate performance within its social context. A personal contribution is also made as money is given directly to the performer and not to a box office.

To stumble upon a street performance is to experience something unique (i.e. an instrument or type of music you never heard before). The composer, Lisa Bielawa, utilizes this concept in her piece "Chance Encounter".

"A single musician sits down and begins to play the opening... Several minutes later, another musician shows up at the site... pulls up in a taxi or comes out of the subway or bus, comes out of a nearby deli or store. This person begins playing, across the street or plaza from the cellist. Some people on the street can only hear one player. Walk across the site, or across the street – the piece changes." (Bielawa, Lisa)

The street musician is easy to define as, simply, a street musician. What is often overlooked is the audacity, desperation, passion and human quality that we absorb passively as we walk by the man playing the Stradervari.

Talk of the Nation: NPR: http://tinyurl.com/6zjaxec

Wall Street Journal (Ten rules for Street Musicians): http://tinyurl.com/4dufx2x

The Washington Post (Joshua Bell): http://tinyurl.com/3x9s2a

Chance Encounter (excerpt) by Lisa Bielawa: http://tinyurl.com/3v4d4ae

Play For Change website: http://playingforchange.com/

Wikipedia (Street Performer): http://tinyurl.com/6agv2ug

Thank You for reading,
Kwaumane Brown

Longy School of Music
UD in Composition ('12)

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