Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pearls Before Breakfast

The article titled Pearls Before Breakfast, authored by Gene Weingarten, appeared in Washington Post on April 8, 2007. Someone posted it on News Notice Board of IIMA recently with an Extremely Long article disclaimer. After such a disclaimer, I was damn sure of not reading it - especially when it was not seemingly politics, economics, or controversy ridden. However, the link just kept popping up in front of me every now and then and people were all praise for this. So I finally read it today and now, I am so highly impressed that I've already written a note to the author and now, going to quote and comment on the article over here.

The article is about a simple fun experiment - Joshua Bell, a violin genius, who plays for royal audience and commands millions for a show, performs 6 tracks for 43 minutes during the morning rush hours. The catch is the venue of performance - Washington Metro Station, near escalator, where Bell plays like a street musician, with a casket in front of him for alms.

The article meticulously details what happens at the metro station. Bell is treated like an invisible man, a nuisance, a street musician, and except few, most of the 1097 passer-by did not pay any attention. The article is not mere journalistic or statistic record keeping. It engages philosophy, psychology, arts, sociology, economics, poetry, and much more than I am capable of understanding. I'd not spoil your treat of reading this piece but can't resist a few quotes and observations:

** "At a music hall, I'll get upset if someone coughs or if someone's cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change." This is from a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

** "When you play for ticket-holders," Bell explains, "you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I'm already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don't like me? What if they resent my presence . . ."

** all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry. Then life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us.

** 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.

** "If you love something but choose not to do it professionally, it's not a waste. Because, you know, you still have it. You have it forever."

And then there are things like, "Koyaanisqatsi", views of Kant and Hume on beauty, thinking financially about music, people completely oblivious to Bell's existence there at metro, people coming in and settling down to listen him, and the old Brazilian lady, who commented, ""If something like this happened in Brazil, everyone would stand around to see. Not here." Finally, quoting two lines of poetry, quoted in the article:

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

-- from "Leisure," by W.H. Davies


Meghna said...

Hello Siddhartha,

I came across your blog...don't know how but I had a similar experience when I walked past Sydney harbour with my 2 y.o. son and he curiously stood there for a street-side performer the only difference is I did not drag him away. I threw some coins.. but alas while leaving my thoughts swang between hope and appreciation. Hope for him to make it better and bigger some day and appreciation for the soothing music and mega entertainment value in that 10 min private street side concert... so public.. yet so personal.

P.S: I am very impressed with your writing. Keep blogging.

Sid said...

Hi Meghna,

Thanks for your comment (and especially the appreciation part :D)

I want (and hope) to write a lot more and a lot better, so keep visiting :)

Koushik said...

Hi Siddharta, can you send me the article on my email address, I like to read it.


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