Life Slowly Starts to Choke

Posted on July 9, 2009 by

Poet Laureate Billy Collins observed:

“All babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us.”

I just recently learned of the “stunt” performed at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington D.C. on January 12, 2007 by the Washington Post (oh yes, I surely should have known about this before now) . The basic question was “In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” Would we acknowledge art, beauty, talent where we don’t expect it, when we don’t expect it? Sadly the answer was no. As the world acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell played incognito as a street performer with his violin case open for tips to an unexpecting audience for 45 minutes, playing some of the most acclaimed masterpieces of all time, he attracted the attention of  7 people (for more than one minute) out of the 1,097 people hurrying past, and received tips of $32.17. Busy people completely oblivious to the Avery Fisher award-winning best classical musician in America.

Janice Martin's 1708 Sir Bagshawe Stradivarius Violin (2000)

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the full performance online. I’d like to think that I would have been one of the 7 people to stop. More than one minute. My best friend from high school is a professional violinist, her sisters are – they perform internationally, know Joshua Bell, went to school with him at the Indiana University School of Music. My husband is a musician. Almost every friend I have made since I moved to Jordan is an artist. Every Thursday is “craft night” with my innsitter (more on that in another post). Personally, my only claim to the art world is a passion for photography, and maybe decorating this inn. But knowing many talented artists, I sincerely hope I would be one of those seven!

My mind began racing. As we race through our lives, how much beauty, art, talent do we miss along the way – and isn’t that what makes our lives more meaningful? The beauty captured in a painting or photograph, a piece of music that speaks to us, a book we can’t put down, our garden, or our neighbors garden – even the beauty of relationships, and watching that captured on the faces of those we cherish. This list could be endless. However, the only demographic consistantly drawn to Joshua Bell’s performance were children – and every parent hurried them along as they turned their necks to watch as they were led away.  Do we, do I, choke the poetry/art out of our younger generation? Has it been choked out of us?

What do WE miss as we hurry through our day off to our obligations? I have always taken the “scenic route to work” – now along the Minnesota River, in California along PCH then through the canyons, but maybe that doesn’t count as I’ve always hated freeway driving so the beautiful route is my excuse. But maybe not? How much beauty/art is missed as we commute? It makes me wonder how many people even notice the historic building towering over them (let alone the historic district they drive through) as they race to work down the highway past our inn. And does my appreciation wane as I live in this historic mansion daily? It reminds me of stopping to smell those proverbial roses.

This performance was January 2007 – before the upheavel to so many of our lives in this recession. So many of us have given ourselves back to the basics in life. Would the attention given to Joshua Bell’s performance be any different today? I’d like to think so. I just might ask the Washington Post what they think now.