The Washington Post wondered - what if one of the greatest musicians played some of the greatest music on one of the greatest instruments - in the middle of the DC metro? The most interesting response to Joshua Bell's amazing performance wasn't that of the adults - it was the children. And the most disappointing response wasn't those who walked away of their own accord, it was the parents who pulled the children away.
Other sad tales:
The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.
There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.
The lottery can be fun, but ultimately it's about greed - the idolization of money and goods, one of many sins that deadens the sensation of all true pleasures. The other passersby show a singleminded focus on the schedule of meaningless tasks and material accumulation - perhaps not the commission of greed, but it seems an offense to the Creator to lose all sense of meaning in your daily life. Follow the children. Stop to listen to the music.
A hundred feet away, across the arcade, was the lottery line, sometimes five or six people long. They had a much better view of Bell than Tindley did, if they had just turned around. But no one did. Not in the entire 43 minutes. They just shuffled forward toward that machine spitting out numbers. Eyes on the prize.
J.T. Tillman was in that line. A computer specialist for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he remembers every single number he played that day -- 10 of them, $2 apiece, for a total of $20. He doesn't recall what the violinist was playing, though. He says it sounded like generic classical music, the kind the ship's band was playing in "Titanic," before the iceberg.
(thanks to Kyle for the link)
p.s. I love authors like Gene Weingarten and many of the people in Slate. They write with excellent style, and I need to absorb some of that.