Folding, spindeling, and mutilating lauguage for fun since Aug, 2004
Wednesday, 11 April 2007

From Conrad Zero I get a link to this article in the Washington Post.

A world-class violinist playing on a priceless violin, posing as a street musician, and his value is only recognized by a few people...a handful who have dabbled at being violinists, and one who recognizes the musician.

People who rushed past, perhaps flipping spare change, perhaps trying to shout over the annoying noise of this bothersom begger...what would they have done if they had realized that they were getting a free front seat at a performance that they would never get another chance at again?

What do people simply throw out as useless, meaningless, even stupid...just because they don't have a reason to really look at it's value?

How much of our "junk science" is the public policy equivilant of a virtuoso with a nearly priceless instrument being ignored by commuters too busy to bother knowing what they are missing?

[UPDATE:  Michelle gives us a link in the comments to a blog entry that expands on the "framing" aspect of the WaPo story.  She says that in order for the audience to respond to a classical musician in a street musician setting, he needs to develop skills for presenting to that audience appropriately for the kind of audience they are, and in the situation they are in rather than actually expecting them to respond to a performance just because it is good and worthy of their attention.

This is EXACTLY what I've been trying to say.  Thank you, Michelle.

Quote from the blog entry:

A busker is someone who can turn any place into a stage. Obviously, Joshua Bell needs an actual stage. As a busker one needs to interact with those around, break walls of personal space, and lure people into a collective and spontaneous group experience on the street, in the moment, with you. A bad busking act is when the performer doesn’t make an effort to connect with the audience. Like musicians who play for themselves, not acknowledging the audience, just burying their heads in their instruments.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007 21:29:10 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [3] |  |  |  | #
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"Joshua Bell and Framing Science" (A Blog Around The Clock) [Trackback]
Thursday, 12 April 2007 07:32:56 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
There is an interesting 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.

Thursday, 12 April 2007 07:57:49 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
Ok - a fun experiment - but totally unfair.

"In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"

Inconvenient time?? He started at 7:51 in a building that employs *government* employees. If you've ever had a government job, you'd know that these people better not be late for work! An "inconvenient" time would be a time when these people have somewhere to be, but there's not a financial penalty for being late or not showing up.

It was a good idea, but poorly executed. Sorry...
Thursday, 12 April 2007 10:05:40 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)

At the site provided by Michelle, several people point out that the "experiment" seemed to be designed specifically to get the outcome it did...but that is neither here nor there. I'm more interested in the questions the results raise, rather than the results themselves.

My observation on this is more that one of the functions of our brain is to "tune out" information that we think we don't need. And our world has, in many ways, shrunk down to a very narrow band the scope of the information we think we need. The debate over "framing" scientific information is essentially one about the extent to which it is appropriate to work to bring scientific information into our scope. How do people with a message we need to hear find a way to access our attention? It's not so significant to me that so few people dallied around LISTENING to Bell...but that so few people HEARD him at all, and that so many people only heard him as just another busker. That he was indistinguishable to them from some guy sawing away on a violin who has only managed to pick out a couple of melodies, or even someone who just wanders around the fingerboard without regard to tune or intonation (I've heard that as well.)

We spend so much of our lives in a narrow, tight-beamed state of focus, that there is really very little time that is a GOOD time to present high quality, but low-urgency information to people. If missing the information won't impact their job today, or kill them today, or damage their children today or cause them to miss their train or miss a meal, it takes a back seat to all the stuff that seems more urgent.

I don't think the take-away message of this is that the audience CAN'T tell the difference, or that they DON'T WANT to tell the difference, or that they DON'T DESERVE to hear fine music because they missed this guy and it was just pearls before swine. Not at all.

The WHOLE POINT for me is that it WAS poorly executed, and that is what the "framing" debate is all about. Are the results of science only for scientists, only for the people who show up at the journals and the blogs and the recent publications and learn to see and feel and read science as the scientists do, and the rest be damned?

Should a concert violinist only be for those who already know that they love the music, and are willing to show up at the concert hall and shell out the money, and develop their ears to hear? Is it enough for the concert violinist to show up where the people are and play for them and then walk away and say "they don't get it?" Or should he go to them and engage them in a way that helps them "get it?", not necessarily stop and dwell on it or think about it or act on it right now, but how do you even get it to show up on their radar?

I happen to think that this was a fantastic experiment, and very illustrative.

Maybe not illustrative of what the experimenters INTENDED to illustrate, but illustrative, nonetheless.

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