Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bell, Violin, Subway

For all the chatter in the classical music blogosphere about the "experiment" involving Joshua Bell playing at the DC Metro during morning rush, I think it's a non-"classical music" blog that get its absolutely right.

Kevin Drum who blogs for the Washington Monthly says,

"I'm sorry, but this is just idiotic. No one recognized Bell because even famous violinists don't have famous faces. No one cared much about his music because probably no more than five people out of a hundred enjoy classical music at all — and fewer still recognize the difficult pieces he decided to play. What's more, I'd be surprised if as many as one out of a hundred can tell a good violinist from a great one even in good conditions. And despite the claim that the acoustics of the L'Enfant Plaza station were "surprisingly kind," I'm sure they were nothing of the sort.

Plus, of course, IT WAS A METRO STATION. People needed to get to work on time so their bosses wouldn't yell at them. Weingarten mentions this, with appropriately high-toned references to Kant and Hume, but somehow seems to think that, in the end, this really shouldn't matter much. There should have been throngs of culture lovers surrounding Bell anyway. It's as if he normally lives on Mars and dropped by Earth for a few minutes to do some research for a sixth-grade anthropology project

this article was so willfully clueless and hectoring (though in a sad, gentle way, natch) that it set my teeth on edge

True. And sad.

It is a rather strange article. Take this

"We'll go with Kant, because he's obviously right, and because he brings us pretty directly to Joshua Bell, sitting there in a hotel restaurant, picking at his breakfast, wryly trying to figure out what the hell had just happened back there at the Metro"

I like Kant as much as the next nerd, but "Obviously right"?

"He [Kant] took beauty seriously: In his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant argued that one's ability to appreciate beauty is related to one's ability to make moral judgments. But there was a caveat. Paul Guyer of the University of Pennsylvania, one of America's most prominent Kantian scholars, says the 18th-century German philosopher felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal."

Huh? I'll leave aside a reading of Kant's "Analytic of the Beautiful" for another day.


Scott Spiegelberg said...

I believe Weingarten was being sarcastic when he said that about Kant. You have to remember that he is a humorist.

Anonymous said...

Writing an article for the general public and mentioning Kant is similar to Bell playing classical music in a metro station. One has to keep the audience in mind.