Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Music Appreciation

One of Ked's and my absolute favorite things about Disneyland is the live music. The Land is bursting at the seams with professional musicians who work together all day, five days a week. All this stage and practice time together allows them to refine their performances to really wonderful levels, and Ked and I are constantly on the lookout for the next aural delight. The performers saunter among the Disney streets, or station themselves on restaurant stages, and whenever we can find them, the music becomes our primary focus. The rides can wait when there's really good jazz going on. We often plan our Disney days around where the next performance will occur, and we'll stay for the whole show, wherever it happens to be. If there's dancing going on to boot, so much the better.

What always strikes us as we indulge our taste for fine live music is how many people couldn't care less about it. People wander by in droves, never even turning their heads. A few will stay for a tune or two, talking the whole time, and then half-heartedly applaud when the music stops, even though they never really were listening in the first place. The silence is simply their cue to clap. It's weird. What always makes us sad, actually sad, even in Disneyland, is that these marvelous musicians, who barely exist for the average park hopper, will draw a crowd when they start handing out beads. Suddenly there will be a swarm of eager "listeners," all reaching and calling at the same time for the coveted prize of a ten cent necklace. Then, when the booty is all dispensed, the crowd quickly melts away, on to the thrill of Splash Mountain, or the delicious enticement of an ice cream sundae, fully satisfied that they have received their shiny prize. We've often talked to the performers after their shows. They tend to find it sad, too. They're pragmatic about it, but they recognize that very few people ever actually hear them. Park visitors are there to have fun, and the musicians merely make up a part of the mood. They are background, part of the ambiance.

They're not background to us, but that's also when we're on vacation, and have all the time in the world. It's not always like that when we're going about our real lives. Those of us who live in the city are used to seeing street musicians offering their wares in the public arena. Ked and I usually listen a bit, but seldom invest very long intervals when we have other things to do. Most people walk on by, some stop for a minute, maybe tossing a buck or two into an open guitar case. That's if the musician is good. When they're bad we scurry on by, not wanting to encourage someone who clearly should find another day job. What would happen, though, if the street musician in question was not only good, but considered the best classical musician in America? Would that make people pause in their tracks, put whatever they're rushing off to on hold, and really listen to the beauty being offered. How many of us would recognize the opportunity for what it was, and seize the moment?

This is not a hypothetical question. The Washington Post recently set up an experiment, wherein "one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made"--performed as a street musician in a Washington D.C. Metro station--violin case seeded with a few dollars "prompting money," nondescript clothing, the works. A friend sent me the fascinating article in which Gene Weingarten writes for the Post about the free concert given by Joshua Bell, a violinist "whose talents can command $1,000 a minute," and how he fared when playing for busy Washington commuters. It's rather long, but really interesting, and just to tempt you there, there are even some video clips with the audio enabled. Have a look. It's very culturally educational.

Hat tip: Scott