April 23rd, 2007

Egrets Reading

Joshua Bell as Street Busker

When it comes to art appreciation, how influenced are we by setting? If one of the world’s best violinists plays some of the world’s most challenging violin music on a street corner, will the people who pass by notice the difference?

Wouldn’t you think a crowd would gather in total awe? The Washington Post recently conducted such an experiment using Joshua Bell.

And the answer, sadly is, apparently not.

I own a few of Bell’s cd’s and I watched him perform at Disney Hall last fall, and he’s absolutely wonderful.

I’d like to think that if I happened to have been at the L’Enfant Plaza in Washington and heard Bell playing Bach’s “Chaconne” from “Partita No. 2 in D Minor” on a violin handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1713 as I walked by, I would have immediately stopped and listened for the rest of his performance. But would I?

I was at the Pantages last week for a performance of Wicked and as I left the theater there were several sidewalk musicans. One was a trio of young kids doing a nice rendition of “Hotel California” and another was a great percussionist performing on an assortment of empty plastic buckets. Did I stop on one of the sidewalk stars on the Walk of Fame and listen? Did I drop money into the percussionist’s bucket or guitarist’s guitar case?

No. I kept walking with the rest of my friends/family back to our cars, in a hurry to get home.

Now, neither of these sidewalk musician acts was of Bell’s caliber. But, if Bell had been there, too, would I have stopped? Would I have recognized him in that setting?

I’d like to think I would, but truthfully, I was in an awful hurry to get home….

And while we’re on this subject, does the same apply to poetry? Do we value poems published in quality publications over poems published in modest small press journals? How influenced are we really by the physical presentation of a poem?

I’d like to think that it’s the poem itself that speaks to us, but truthfully how much does the presentation really count in our minds?