Saturday, November 8, 2014

Open Your Ears

"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Berthold Auerbach
Gene Weingarten,a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist wrote an article back in 2007 called Pearls Before Breaksfast, a well chosen title.
What do you think would happen if an extremely famous musician showed up in one of the train stations here in Boston,say Harvard Sq or Downtown Crossing and started performing as if they were a regular street performer? And I mean someone very famous. Would people rush over? Calmly stop for a few minutes to listen and then go about their day? Or would they walk on by and not even notice?
This scenario is the premiss of Weingarten's article, but it's didn't happen here, it happened in D.C. at the L’Enfant Plaza Station. What do you think happened my fellow musicians?
Below is a professional’s opinion on what might happen if this happened in real life, as quoted from the article.
Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was asked the same question. What did he think would occur, hypothetically, if one of the world’s great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people? “Let’s assume,” Slatkin said, “that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, 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.”
So, a crowd would gather?
“Oh, yes.”
And how much will he make?
“About $150.”
Thanks, Maestro. As it happens, this is not hypothetical. It really happened.
“How’d I do?”
We’ll tell you in a minute.
“Well, who was the musician?”
They told Slatkin who the musician was, but I am going to leave that part up to your imagination for now. The maestro's prediction however, was way too optimistic. In 45 minutes this super star classical musician played in the station he made only $32.17, yes that is correct, there were pennies. Only a handful of people ever stopped to listen and only of those actually recognized him.
Now one of the potential explanations offered in the article is that it was the wrong setting, that people never would think that this could truly be said famous person, so even if they thought "Wow, that guy can really play!" they didn't connect the dots because just like you would never plan on seeing the Mona Lisa in a station, you don't look for Joshua Bell.
That's right, Joshua Bell. Bell did not draw a crowd like the Maestro predicted, and $150? People put pennies in his case.
I can see the truth in the argument that it was the wrong setting, but even so it worries me that his level of artistry couldn't draw people in even if they had no clue he was. An artist who performs for sold out concert halls, has soloed with every major orchestra in the world on a violin worth over 3 milion dollars, still can't catch the attention of the average person. Where does that leave us?

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