What makes us interpret a form of art as something we like?

by gregtronel

Here is a little story around this concept:

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousand of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
A possible conclusion could be:
The concept of ‘good music’ seem to be directly related to the environment in which the music is performed and how we interpret it when it falls outside the realm of our expectations.
Moreover, if we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the most virtuosic music ever written, what else are we missing?


One Comment to “What makes us interpret a form of art as something we like?”

  1. I used to live in Seattle, and many times there would be musicians (of all persuasions, but classical sometimes) with incredible talent busking on the sidewalks or in the underground transit stations. One older man in particular used to play flute in the mornings in the underground station by my work. His tunes could set the mood for my entire day. Sometimes they were light and happy, sometimes morose. Sometimes he’d approach free jazz. The notes would echo through the station in a surreal way. He was the only human part of my commute.

    Several times I really wanted to linger and listen but 1) I never had time, and 2) I’m really shy. Frankly, I was too shy to interact with him. I never gave him money, because I never had any in my pocket when I passed. It had nothing to do with not appreciating his music. I think our social culture is the problem, not our lack of appreciation of art.

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