I found this story through Miss Snark’s blog and was blown away. It’s about a ‘survey’ the Washington Post did. They asked world renowned violinist Joshua Bell to play in a subway station in Washington DC one day, dressed as a street musician. And they videotaped it. Very few people paid any attention to the violinist who days before, and days after, could command a thousand dollars a MINUTE to play at renowned concert halls where people would pay upwards of $100 per seat to listen to him. Oh, how I wish I’d been in L’Enfant Plaza THAT day!

Bath-AbbeywebI’ve often stopped to listen to street musicians. I’ve got a videotape of a superb violinist who played just outside Bath Abbey in England – I actually stopped and listened to him for close to half an hour. It’s hard to see in this picture, but that’s him in the black shirt at the bottom right of the picture. (See I was so impressed I actually put him in my picture!) I’d videotaped a flutist in the narrow streets of old York (that’s York England) a few days before. I’ve videotaped buskers in New Orleans, Ottawa, and Montreal. And for any who travel the Toronto subway system, you may not realize it but members of the Toronto Symphony orchestra often serenade you – they will ‘busk’ to supplement their income. I’ve heard some truly spectacular playing resounding down the tiled subway halls (which have surprisingly fantastic accoustics).

When I was attending the TRW critique workshop last month, I had to change from the GO Train in Union station and head over to the Union Station subway station in the Royal Bank Plaza. In the corridor between the two buildings, a woman and three girls stood playing their violins. They played very familiar songs by Handel and Bach. I quickly recognized the ‘book one’ songs Suzuki violin students learn. Ah, a teacher and her students. And they played beautifully. But did I hang around to listen? Well, sort of. I did while I lined up to purchase tokens. I couldn’t see them, but the violin can be a loud instrument and you could hear them hundreds of feet, and several corners, away.

I spent six years taking my youngest to his Suzuki violin lessons, hearing those songs played over and over, and even though the violin is not my favourite instrument, I wish he’d continued. My son has a gift for music, he always has. He started begging me for music lessons when he was three. I thought he was too young. He wasn’t, they do start them at that age. I finally found a Suzuki teacher when he was 5. During those six years, we went through three violins (they do come in different sizes), and probably more than six thousand dollars in lessons. Curly plays the flute in his high school band class now and from what I hear from his teacher, he’s good and she wishes he would continue and take extended lessons. But, as with the violin, he can’t be bothered to practice – the eventual reason I pulled him from his violin lessons. And I can’t see forcing him to take flute lessons for the same reason. I can’t see ploughing good money after bad if he stays so intransigent.

If I hear a good busker do I stop and listen? Yes, but they have to be good. Whether it’s someone strumming a guitar, romancing me with a violin or juggling swords, I’ll stop and give them a few minutes of my time. But they have to be good to warrant a second look. And unfortunately I usually can’t give them more than a minute of my time because life does intrude – trains have to be caught, meetings have to be attended when they start, not when I feel like showing up.

Do I pitch a looney or twoney in their case? Yes, I have. I generally don’t have much to spend, but I will toss in a buck (or a pound), or two, or three, if they have the gift I wish I had. The gift I wish my son would nurture.

Music Appreciation 101
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3 thoughts on “Music Appreciation 101

  • April 7, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    awesome article about Bell.

    I especially loved this point:
    >>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.

    sadly enough, I believe that’s all too true.

    I wonder if I would have stopped?? I like to think so.

    Sue L

  • April 8, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    I LOVE Joshua Bell…
    amazing story.

    I haven’t heard buskers in years! I should take the subway more often.

  • April 8, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    I love buskers. Love them.

    I miss wandering the underground of Toronto listening to the music.

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