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April 10th, 2007


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08:10 am
Looks like they've got the animated ad on the Red Line running again between Harvard and Central station, now that the track work is done and trains can go by at regular speed. Only caught the tail end of it; I believe it's for running shoes, which is quite appropriate. Most of the ads they used a few years ago were for products and services that promised escape, the great outdoors, fresh-air freedom, and, in the case of Target's ad, beautiful people in white running around outside through a rain of bullseye Target logos. You can see how that'd appeal to those of us stuck in a tin can hurtling through an underground conduit. (On the other hand, the ads I've seen from Broadway to South Station usually involve orange juice, so I'm guessing theirs is a morning commute theme kind of thing.)

I'm particularly intrigued by the reactions to the Washington Post piece on the busking virtuoso that's been gettin' all them blogs a-buzz (lookit all them little bees buzzin around an' everything!) While I think "Pearls Before Breakfast" makes for a dandy article name, I can't say I'm so quick to join up and lay down the Uncultured Philistine smack on the residents of Washington, DC for not recognizing a famous violinist in their midst. I mean, really, hands up, folks: who had heard of Joshua Bell before reading that piece? Okay, use your free hand to give yourself a cookie, but I freely admit I'd never heard of the fellow before, though he sounds like an amazing performer.

I have a busker or two on my friends list and I hope they can corroborate this next point with me, the point that subway busking is a transitory experience (if you can pardon the word choice there.) Mr. Bell was stationed at the entrance to one of the busiest Metro stations at the height of morning rush. In that location, folks are going to come and go quickly and if you can imagine your own commute, you'll know that there are times when you've had to rush out the door, down to the car, or dash to the train station to make the 7:17 train because if you wait for the 7:20 train, you'll be late, or you won't get a good seat, or you'll turn into a pumpkin, or whatever. If you want a crowd to gather, you go where people stand around. Had Mr. Bell performed on the train platform, I wager, more folks would have listened more closely while they waited for their train. It may be less of a comment on individual ignorance and more of a comment on our society, ruled by the clock as it is, that one should no longer expect people to stop and appreciate beauty; you've got to offer it to them when they're stopped.

I also wonder how many people passed by as he played and took the music with them. Even just hearing a fragment of a tune as you pass by can get it into your head. Perhaps you carry that tune around with you for a while. Heck, it could even set your whole mood for the day. If you think of it in Sims terms or somesuch, imagine everybody in that video who passed by as Bell played gained a musical note over their head. Think of all the people on the platforms, then, with musical notes over their head, little glowing eighth notes, getting on trains, dispersing elsewhere, and perhaps spreading, via a good mood, notes to others. I dunno. It made for a nifty visual, that's for sure.

But the folks with iPods, well, they're on their own here. By choice.

(31 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:rabswom
Date:April 10th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC)
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I actually thought that the article did a very good job of not saying that the people who passed on by were uncultured philistines. He even quoted Kant to prove it.
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From:derspatchel
Date:April 10th, 2007 02:27 pm (UTC)
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Well, I don't think the article was doing the condemning, either. Reactions to the article, however, have been.
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From:wellstar
Date:April 10th, 2007 02:27 pm (UTC)
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Gene was "Live Online" yesterday answering questions about the article; it's an interesting supplement to the article.
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From:eeka13
Date:April 10th, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, he's one of the most prominent violinists actually. Most people who own violin recordings do know who he is.

Kim Kashkashian (probably most famous violist right now, lives in Boston) busks at Quincy Market sometimes.
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From:pushupstairs
Date:April 10th, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
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plus she's got that awesome sex tape coming out.


... oh wait.
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From:eeka13
Date:April 10th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC)
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Oh, you know, you gotta think about context too. I would absolutely recognize Josh Bell by sight or by sound, but would I necessarily tune in that much to someone playing in a subway? If I was unhurried and was listening in the first place, I could see myself thinking that the person was really good, but probably wouldn't expect it to be anyone I recognized, so I probably wouldn't even go through the cognitive process of trying to place the person. I'd just get on the train thinking the busker was really good.
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From:derspatchel
Date:April 10th, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, that's the thing. You go right by on your hurried commuting way and hear the music but not place the guy. And even then, there was the fellow in the article who knew who Joshua Bell was but didn't recognize him as he had an "older picture" as mental reference.
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From:xiphias
Date:April 10th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
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He made $32 in 45 minutes.

That's damn good for a busker. Especially an untrained busker. Busking is its own skill set, and he doesn't have it, and he STILL made over twice what a competent busker would expect.
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From:bostonista
Date:April 10th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)
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Joshua Bell was busking? Whoa.

And yeah, I know who he is, because I'm an ex-violinist. Cookie, svp.
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From:plumtreeblossom
Date:April 10th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
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I used to busk with a bluegrass trio (I sang and played tamborine, and we had a fiddler and a banjo player, often singing 3-part harmonies.)
Yes, placement is everything when it comes to successful busking. You need to plant yourself in a place where people have no choice but to listen to you while they wait for their train, or in a place where people are spending leisure time and not rushing to get somewhere.

GOOD PLACES TO BUSK
The center island at the Park Street T station
The bench near the elevator on the Davis platform
Above ground in Harvard Square

BAD PLACES TO BUSK
Downtown Crossing at the Orange Line
Copley Square
The Airport T station (no longer allowed anyway, I believe)

People don't have time to dig for change when they're in a hurry to get somewhere. Still, $32 in 45 minutes is impressive. We averaged about $20 per hour.
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From:derspatchel
Date:April 10th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)
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Orange Line at Downtown Crossing seems to be where the religious singers like to set up shop, right next to the jewelery-on-blankets concessions. I remember one bleary morning waiting for a train to Wellington and listening to an earnest, yet mind-numbing fellow sing a song about how "God isn't finished with me". Apparently God wasn't finished with the song, either, because it had about twenty-seven choruses.
From:kevin_church
Date:April 10th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
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Man, screw Josh Bell. I'm all about the guy that belts out R and B tunes over a karaoke track in Harvard Square's station.

(And if I hear that one song the Portugese singer always seems to pick when I'm around one more goddamn time... Thank god I got the super-expensive earphones for my iPod that block out his yelping.)
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From:antiquated_tory
Date:April 10th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)
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Busking on platforms is not allowed as worldwide underground train system best practices, I think. At least I've never seen it allowed, whereas more enlightened systems allow busking in designated places in the walkways.

Btw, I have been waiting for you to post about the T because of something we saw in Amsterdam. At the Metro terminus at Central Station, where there is a whitewall up to cover the extension works, there are a series of binocular viewers built into the wall. Each one has the name of a city above it, and each one gives a 3D view of a Metro station in that city, one with a Dutch theme if possible.

Except for the viewer marked "Boston." When you look into that viewer, you just see an empty plywood-lined space with some wires.
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From:ron_newman
Date:April 10th, 2007 04:36 pm (UTC)
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I don't know what you mean by "best practices". The places that the T has designated are supposed to be sufficiently out of the way of pedestrian traffic that they don't cause problems.
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From:28bytes
Date:April 10th, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)
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A girl I had a huge, unrequited crush on in college had a huge, unrequited crush on Joshua Bell.

I've resented him ever since.
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From:surrealestate
Date:April 10th, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)
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I love you!
From:oakenguy
Date:April 10th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
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I checked out the first five pages of comments over on the Post, but the signal-to-noise ratio was really high. If I had a nickel for every comment along the lines of "This wouldn't have happened in Europe/NYC/Seattle/another Metro stop/if *I'd* been around", I could have...well...bought a paper edition of the Post. Denial ain't just a river.

I feel like I should point out, though, the article wasn't "what happens if we put Joshua Bell in front of a captive audience who doesn't recognize him". It was "what happens if we expose bustling commuters to something sublimely beautiful". They chose to go with a genius violinist, and people seem to be focussing on that and judging the article partly on their own feelings about classical music, but what if they'd gone with something different? Mark Knopfler playing, say, or Steve Martin making balloon animals and jokes, or Savion Glover dancing?
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From:derspatchel
Date:April 10th, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)
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Beauty is in the sense of the beholder, or something.

I would have expected Ave Maria at least to make someone stop and listen, tears welling in their eyes. The song can provoke quite an emotional response.
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From:manda_x
Date:April 10th, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC)
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I also wonder how many people passed by as he played and took the music with them.

In fact, this article reminded me of commuting to work in D.C. Every so often there would be a bagpiper, decked out in full regalia, at my destination Metro stop. I love live bagpipe music (I know, but please, hold your catcalls until the end of the presentation), and as far as I know this guy was pretty good. I typically gave him a buck or whatever, and I generally felt it to be a wonderfully bracing way to start the day. But I don't think I ever stopped on my walk through the station to just stand and listen. I had a job to get to just like everyone else. I'm not sure that specific behavior is the best objective measure of whether people recognize beauty or genius or whatever, much less whether it has an effect on them.
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From:arielblue
Date:April 10th, 2007 08:08 pm (UTC)
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Heh -- I'm definitely in the "omg Joshua Bell busking!?" crowd, but I'm not so sure I'd know who he is (at least not as well as I do) if it weren't for the fact that he grew up here in Bloomington and I've been hearing about him since he was like ten years old and taking classes at IU as the token child prodigy. He really is an amazing musician though, and awfully darned cute for a boy, to boot.

But if I saw him playing I wouldn't drop money. Fucker just won another humongous prize ($75K I think). I need my dollar more than he does. ;)
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From:the_indiekid
Date:April 11th, 2007 05:41 am (UTC)
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I saw the article, and though I have heard of Josh Bell before, I don't know if I would have stopped, or recognized him. Hell, I enjoy listening to many of the Park Street performers, but I have never given any of them money.

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