Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Roses? What Roses?

Four months ago, on January 12, 2007 Joshua Bell, a world-renowned virtuoso agreed to pretend to be a street musician and play for one hour outside a Washington, D.C. metro station. It was a sociological test of sorts to see how many people busily on their way to work would recognize the beauty and art coming from a violinist whose concerts can cost over $100 to attend. This article in last week's Washington Post is an illuminating contemplation of art and beauty’s place in our lives. This isn’t exactly an article on books or on reading but it is on our ability to appreciate art - even of the written word - in the fast-paced, stressed-out, modern lives we lead today. I found this passage to be of particular interest:

A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She's got his hand.

"I had a time crunch," recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. "I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement."

Evvie is her son, Evan. Evan is 3.

You can see Evan clearly on the video. He's the cute black kid in the parka who keeps twisting around to look at Joshua Bell, as he is being propelled toward the door.

"There was a musician," Parker says, "and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time."

So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan's and Bell's, cutting off her son's line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look. When Parker is told what she walked out on, she laughs.

"Evan is very smart!"

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

PostNote: Many thanks to the folks over at bookninja for bringing this to my attention. I live in Washington, D.C. and I had no idea. How's that for oblivious? And God knows with all of the ugliness in the world today - what with last week's Imus tornado and yesterday's killing on Virginia Tech's campus - I need all the beauty I can get.


The Traveller said...

I like the idea that we are all born with some sense of poetry! The thing with that experiment was that if people don't have time to stop and listen, they won't - even if they wanted to. I was stuck at Paddington Station in London for a couple of hours last Friday, and the Great Western Railway Band set up in the station and played for two hours and were so marvellous I wanted to cry. But I wouldn't have listened to them if my train had been leaving, it was only because I had time. Perhaps more people would have stopped to listen if he had played at lunch break or something.

Gentle Reader said...

Leave it to the kids to see the beauty in the world. It's a wake-up call to me. My kids are constantly trying to stop for things I don't think we have time for--but maybe I should make time...

Matt said...

I think I read the post about this over on bookninja. I'm glad you posted this, I was curious to see how it turned out. I wonder what I would have done. Probably walked busily on by.

And children, they definitely know beauty.

J.S. Peyton said...

the traveller: What I found most interesting is that people didn't even acknowledge with a side-ways glance that there was someone playing music. Are we all so one-track minded that we can't spare a second's glance before we make our appointment?

gentle reader: I think we should all make the time. I know I need to. : )

Matt: Bookninja was definitely on top of this story first (I just kind of piggy-backed : ) Predictably I think, it didn't turn out very well. It turned out even worse than they'd expected, actually. The article speaks for itself, I think.