Apr 09 2007
A semi-common sight in DC are street musicians, people who stand on street corners or sit just inside the entrances of Metrorail stations and play instruments of one sort or another. Every once in a while you'll see one within spitting distance of an office building, something that has become a bit more rare since 9/11 since physical security has become such a big deal in this country. Most people don't even stop to listen to them because they're too busy doing what they need to do to keep their lives running smoothly, which seems to consist of running to meetings, running from meetings, and sitting in cubicle gulags or offices (if you're lucky) hammering away at a keyboard.
What is a world-famous musician camped out in the middle of DC and played amazingly complex violin pieces for everyone walking by on their way to or from work? The horrible truth is: At most, a handful of people even noticed.
On 12 January 2007, Joshua Bell, who is considered a virtuoso of the violin, a man who has packed Boston's Symphony Hall, a violinist who "plays like a god" (thus sayeth Oscar-winning composer John Corigliano), packed up his beloved Stradivarius violin, put on working-joe clothes, and hailed a taxicab to travel a couple of blocks to L'Enfant Plaza, which is the destination of many employees of the US Federal Government in this area, whereupon he set up the traditional violin case for tips and began to play. The music that Bell played that morning was selected from the canon of pieces that composers, musicians, and scholars over the decades and centuries have decided are masterpieces, works that embody the very spirit of mankind, works without parallel. Chaconne by Bach. Schubert's Ave Maria. Estrellity by Manuel Ponce.
Over a thousand people walked by that morning. Less than ten stopped for any length of time to listen. A crowd never built up around here, most everyone was too busy to stop and pay attention for any length of time.
Sadly, there were several children who kept trying to stop and listen, and each and every time their parents pulled them away because they had important things to do and schedules to keep.
One person said that he thought he'd heard "generic classical music, the kind the ship's band was was playing in Titanic."