Joshua Bell in the D.C. Metro Station

Today’s Washington Post article on Joshua Bell in L’Enfant Plaza is melancholy, puts me in mind of Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro. But also, from Much Ado about Nothing, I think of Hero on Beatrice’s attitude toward men: “If speaking, why, a vane blown with all winds / If Silent, why, a block moved with none” (3.1.66-67). What is perceived depends on the perceiver’s frame of reference.

Joshua Bell, minus the concert hall stage and the rakishly informal tiring–as befits the eminent soloist–becomes an odd variant on the usual huckster and fiddler. Albeit loud and with touch, he probably wants a buck. Except, of course, he’s not sawing for dollars. It’s a social science experiment, and you, philistine on your way to work, are the rat in the labyrinth.

The article is an experiment in multimedia web as a frame. My first impression was that the piece was written quite well, though coy at the beginning, especially the Slatkin interruption. I can’t separate the article from the video, the haunting sadness of the violin unheard, the dancer from the dance. And yet, the video cuts are excruciating. I want to hear it uncut, ticket turnstiles clacking through it all. So I printed it, to set aside for seven years and read again, minus the soundtrack, so that I can be an impartial critic of the prose.

One need not wait like Horace. The article now has another public frame. It jumped to “Most Read” and “Most E-mailed” within hours of its posting. In librarian mode, I thought of the article six months from now, in a news service database (Lexis-Nexis, etc.), minus the video and the sound. These public frames (in addition to the gratuitous but clear Romantic child as audience) and my own public response are all the more important for understanding how the article is read, or heard.

So I’ll document a bit more about my one personal reception experience, which framed my response as well. I read it while my son, who has his second violin lesson tomorrow, was watching Pirates of the Caribbean. On hearing the computer speakers, he turned up the TV volume. Johnny Depp and the exploding ship drowned the violin. Digression again with poetry, this time Felicia Hemans:

There came a burst of thunder sound–
The boy–oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–

No human fragments in Pirates, as PG-13 rating requires one to avoid swords piercing entrails. Much Ado is personal too, as my little violinist was the Sexton in a children’s theater production. I attended last night and the night before. The attraction of poetry is strong today, and I suspect that designing an SQL database will do that to a person. Maybe it’s just spring.

UPDATE: Today, 7 April 2008, Weingarten’s article won a Pulitzer Prize. And it is on Lexis-Nexis, but the URL that links to Bell’s performance is awful. Here is the link on Lexis-Nexis: That takes you nowhere, to the “Washing Post,” which as of today is a dead link but within a week I expect will be owned by a pornographer.

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One Response to Joshua Bell in the D.C. Metro Station

  1. Gary says:

    There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog:
    She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters… I thought you might find it interesting.

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