The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, April 19, 11:08 p.m.

Fat lady sings for classical music

Passers-by in D.C. an indication of American tastes

Music saturates our culture. For many of us, I’d say it helps to shape our dress, philosophy and social interaction. I would even argue that music has impacted our culture more deeply than other art forms such as literature, movies or famous paintings. But if music has such a profound effect on us, then why did 1,070 people pass by without batting an eye at the performance of a classically trained violinist on an early January morning?

According to the Washington Post in an article published in Sunday’s paper, the world-famous musician left his violin case open at a metro station in Washington, D.C. for commuting passers-by to show their appreciation. In a period of 43 minutes, only 27 work-bound people decided to toss $32 worth of change to a man whose concerts can easily sell tickets at $100 apiece.

Is that what Americans think a Grammy Award-winning artist is worth?

Clearly, classical music is not enjoying a period of prosperity. As a former record store employee, I’d hear the occasional customer complain about the shrinking classical section and the young generation’s musical ignorance. But the people passing by Bell weren’t snob-nosed kids tuned into their iPods. They were the middle class, and a pretty affluent middle class at that.

Bell and the Post collaborated to conduct this experiment to answer the question: “In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” And boy, was the answer a resounding and depressing “NO.”

That “no” indicates that we need a cultural cue to let us know when music is good or else it won’t even register in our memory banks. Since our culture is so saturated with music, it’s now impossible for us to fend for ourselves. We have the billboard charts crammed with over-produced, over-hyped nobodies, so naturally we cannot trust them. The only way we avoid this pitfall is to dig and fight through the thousands of magazines and Web sites all asserting that this artist is the next big thing. It’s such a money-hungry battle that when there’s a musician with actual talent – Bell was a child prodigy violinist – no one knows what to do.

So they keep on walking to work.

I can only hope that the work they dutifully commute for involves making a time machine to take me away to a place where art actually means something instead of serving as a forgotten background.

J. Astra Brinkmann is a third-year journalism and new media major.