We've had considerable discussion about "the death" of CM (or rather
of public engagement with CM) in this country. I must say the story
of Joshua Bell's subway performance is the most discouraging indication
of all. [Closely followed, I would say, by the composer John Adams'
observation that he is friendly with all of his neighbors in SF, but not
one of them has any interest in, or for that matter even knows, what he
What strikes me as most discouraging is NOT that the Metro commuters
failed to notice that the busker was the famous violinist Joshua Bell.
That is just a matter of the celebrity culture crap. No, the saddest
part is that only 0.6% of them stopped for even a minute to listen to
an expert performance of the Bach Chaconne in D minor, one of the Himalayan
pinnacles of serious music.
I have a nagging feeling that it would have been different elsewhere,
but I am not sure. A friend of mine used to play the violin in the
Georges V stop of the Paris Metro. He did all right, even though he is
no Joshua Bell, and did not play pieces like Bach's towering Chaconne.
However, I recollect one other experience in Paris which is, in a way,
comparable to Bell's experiment, and with a very different outcome.
One evening around 20 years ago, I was wandering through the Quartier
Latin and was, along with many others, enthralled by a street musician.
On a synthesizer of some kind, he was playing music that was a haunting,
Breton folkish/jazz fusion; he sounded something like the folk group
Malicorne (if you know them) and all I can say is that he was really
good. A crowd gathered to listen to him, soon becoming so large that
traffic at the intersection was blocked. The resulting traffic jam was
such that eventually policemen arrived and asked the street musician to
move elsewhere so that the crowd would disperse. It wasn't at rush-hour,
to be sure. But the fraction of passersby who stopped to listen to the
mysterious street musician must have been closer to 10% than 0.6%.
Jon Gallant and Dr. Phage
Department of Gnome Sciences
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