Time for Beauty?

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Time for Beauty?

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jan 09, 2012 2:25 am

I was reading a short article in Newsweek on world-renowned, classical violinist Joshua Bell when I noticed a five-date timeline at the bottom of the page listing some events in his career, one of which caught my eye:
<2011 “2007: Performs incognito in a subway; the experiment turns into a Pulitzer Prize-winning story.”—Newsweek 9 & 16 January, page 64>
Curiosity led me to do some Googling to find the Pulitzer Prize article and see what the experiment was all about.

To whet your appetite and see if you can guess the outcome, I’ll quote the article’s first few paragraphs:

Pearls Before Breakfast

Can one of the nation's great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let's find out.

By Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007

HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L'ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L'Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he's really bad? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made [[$3.5 million Stradivarius]]. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

For the complete article see here.

Ken G – January 8, 2012
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