On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in
an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing
against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of
the escalators was 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. His performance was arranged by The
Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities
— as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal
setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?
As a commuter who usually has iPod buds in my ear, I really don't pay much attention to the various Andean musicians, Chinese guitarists, rock-n-rollers, Mariachi players and family bands who populate the subway stations and cars. I have been known to stop and listen, and every time I pass one of them I tend to think of Tracy Chapman, who started out as a busker and made it big. But I'm with one of the passing sentiments in the subway: If you watch, you should pay. If you get something out of it, fork over some cash. By ignoring or moving along, you don't owe anyone anything. So mostly, I don't.
What's actually most fun about this piece for me is listening to Bell's humbled comments; yes, the hoi polloi may be tone deaf but if a tree plays Bach in the forest and no one cares to listen, then does talent even mean anything?
On the flip side, would I know greatness if greatness were — if not thrust upon me, then placed next to me on the subway? Probably not, particularly with classical music. I'm sure I would have walked by.
But I'd like to think I might have paused, and listened, a bit.
P.S. It's a really well-written article, too.