Oh no, I have an obstructed view of Joshua Roman!


This past weekend, a group of us attended a subscription concert performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis at Benaroya Hall. We collectively hold a block of seats, and it's a mix of regulars and rotating guests. Our seats are close to the stage, made even closer by the hall reconfiguration to accommodate the choir and soloists; we were effectively in the first row. (And if you were wondering what those covered holes in the floor are up near the stage, they're where the supports go for the stage extension.)

As we filed into our seats, one of our guests for this particular concert exclaimed in mock consternation, "Oh no, I have an obstructed view of Joshua Roman!" I switched seats, giving our guest a slightly better potential view of the young cellist. In exchange, I got a much better view of Elisa Barston, the new principal second who probably would have gotten most of the ooh-aah attention if it weren't for the even younger new cellist. (Normally, I only get to see the left-hand side of her body, since the Seattle Symphony splits the violins left and right, more in keeping with 19th-century practice. It was somewhat strange seeing her from the other side when she led a string quartet and therefore sat on the left-hand side.)

Ultimately, the seat swap didn't help much with the Joshua Roman viewing opportunities, because the conductor and soloists occupied most of the field of view. Afterwards, we jokingly discussed various ways we could express our Joshua Roman groupie-dom, ranging from giant "We Love You Joshua Roman" placards to floppy-haired wigs. At least I hope they were joking.

Comments (9)
  1. Anonymous says:

    If you have the time, The Washington Post had an article in the Sunday magazine about a world famous violin player busking in the Metro station to see how folks would react and if they’d give money.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html

    Do you think Josh Roman would do any better ? Or only in Seattle ?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Holy moly. That article… gave me far too much to think about.

    I’m not usually a concert-goer, but as a gamer I made an exception when Video Games Lives came to Edmonton. I was very impressed, and I’ve entertained thoughts of going back to see the ESO perform something less familiar to me.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Nathan, that was a pretty interesting article. I want to be appalled, but I could easily see myself doing that as I commute to and from work. Kind of sad how we’ve conditioned ourselves.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I read that article as well, and while definitely interesting the outcome it was exactly as I would have expected:-

    a) The majority of the population do not appreciate classical music, let alone follow it to any level of detail. I am not all surprised that 1000 people did not recognize Joshua or that his superior playing did not reach them on its own merit. I’d be willing to bet that a significant number of the Washington Post reporters that worked on that article were in fact classical music fans (or follow the genre in some way) and like most people they simply have a hard time truly understanding that their tastes are not shared more widely.

    b) As the article says, context is everything, If a currently famous popular music musician had been up there playing covers on an acoustic guitar I suspect he’d have got the same reaction. Famous musicians of any genre do not busk so we don’t expect to see them.

    c) Reciprocity is a powerful force. If I stop and listen to the music then I know I will feel obligated to give some money in return (as did everybody who stopped). I didn’t ask to be entertained so the busker is trying to force me into doing something I don’t necessarily want to do. This attack on my personal autonomy is annoying enough that I won’t stop unless the music is very appealing to me (and therefore worth the bargain I am implicitly agreeing to by choosing to listen). Classical music isn’t compelling to most people so they don’t stop.

    All of this together makes me suspect that for most people Joshua Bell’s playing simply didn’t filter into their consciousness. As we get older our brains get better and better at prioritizing what information is presented for a conscious decision. This is what allows an adult to be productive versus the Brownian motion of children. The children going through that station were all fascinated by Joshua because they were seeing something different. I’d bet that all those children would have responded in the exact same way regardless of who was busking.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Oldnewthing, Can you tell someone in the Microsoft infrastructure group that time.windows.com has been messed up for several days? I contacted PSS, but they said it wasn’t their issue. I also posted in the newsgroups to no avail. Right now millions of PC clocks are adrift.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know why the above comment made me laugh, but it did. Why Mr.Malayter thinks that Raymond may be able to help I have no idea; although the superman he is.

    As for the blog post, I would agree entirely with Andrew.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I also read the article and I have a few additional points.

    1)  I am tired of people (i.e. journalist, authors) stating (or infering) that those who do not enjoy classical music, poetry, wine, etc. are less human, are not enjoying life, or are a class below those who do enjoy these things.  

    2) Lets analyze this statement by the author, "If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?"

       A) As stated by the author many times know one knew that a master musician was performing.  In fact, most people do not even know what a master musician sounds like.  Lets say you know nothing about golf (ie what the golfers look like, what is considered a good round of golf) and you start watching a golfer play on TV.  On top of that this golfer is not dressed in normal golf clothes, is playing on a golf course that does not seem like what you would think professional golfers would play on and know one at the course is watching him.  The golfer could be Tiger Woods and you would have no clue if he was having a good round of golf because you have no knowledge about the sport and there are no external signs to clue you in.  Additionally, because of where he was playing and because of how he was dressed people where even more likely to dismiss him as somebody just playing for money.

       B) Most Americans do not listen to classical music, therefore there interest in someone playing is lessened

       C) Almost no Americans know what Joshua Bell looks like.  If they do not recognize him they are less likely to stop.

       D) If you have every walked in a busy metropolitian area you get tired of beggars, peddlars, druggies, and street performers trying to get a piece of your hard earned paycheck.  It does not matter that Bell was playing master violin, people are conditioned to get through "beggar’s alley" as quickly as possible.  Just watch how exceptionally fast people move through these areas without making eye contact with anyone.  They are on a mission when they are in these ares and I do not blame them.  I get tired of being asked for varying amounts of money every 50 feet.

       E) My most important point is this… These are busy people (as stated by the journalist).  Just because most of them did not stop to acknowledge Joshua Bell’s masterful playing does not mean they did not enjoy what they heard.  The people going doing the escalator, the people coming in off the street, and those getting lottery tickets probably all enjoyed what he was playing, but they have their own tasks that have to get done in a limited timeframe.   I am reminded of the Footsteps peom, just because you did not see humans physically stop to listen to Joshua Bell does not mean that they were not listen and enjoying what he was playing.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Off to a solo career.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The pocket reference guide for 2009/2010.

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