Thursday, March 12, 2009

David Lee Garrison in Rattle

Bach in the D.C. Subway

As an experiment,
the Washington Post
asked a concert violinist--
wearing jeans, tennis shoes,
and a baseball cap--
to stand near a trash can
at rush hour in the subway
and play Bach
on a Stradivarius.
Partita No. 2 in D Minor
called out to commuters
like an ocean to waves,
sung to the station
about why we should bother
to live.

A thousand people
streamed by. Seven of them
paused for a minute or so
and thirty-two dollars floated
into the open violin case.
A café hostess who drifted
over to the open door
each time she was free
said later that Bach
gave her peace,
and all the children,
all of them,
waded into the music
as if it were water,
listening until they had to be
rescued by parents
who had somewhere else to go.

David Lee Garrison
Rattle 14:2 p. 40

Consider reading this poem again while listening to the Partita. You can listen to Itzhak Perlman playing the Allemande here, and find videos of the other movements.

The poem uses the metaphor of an ocean to express the flow of Bach's music. The Partita "called out to commuters / like an ocean to waves." Waves move toward shore in an apparent attempt to escape, but are always pulled back toward the sea, their origin and home. The music is the ocean, and the commuters, as waves, are being called to that which is their origin.

Human beings are viewed in the poem as a part of the music, almost as if they are created by it and being called back home. A few commuters recognize this instinctively: the seven who stop to listen, the café hostess, and especially the children. I'm listening to the Partita as I write this, and I can tell you it is difficult not to stop and just be lulled into the music. Like the children, I could easily lose all sense of time and place and be tranced into a beautiful Bach state.

Photo by Aidan Jones via flickr/CC


s said...

I think the comparison between our current system of life and the organic flux of music makes this poem all the more potent. That this performance took place in a station, that the parents who carry away their children because of something they have to do...we don't even know it, but we are harbingers of our own (for lack of a better word) death...

I believe this is about the Joshua Bell performance? It was a wonderful idea, though a rude awakening to the state of our minds, our world.

The Tenacious Writer said...

I don't know who the violinist is, but it could well be him.

I also like that juxtaposition between the human made rush of a subway station and the wave-like quality of the music--note the violinist is standing next to a trash can.

It's interesting talking about the "organic flux" of music, especially Bach. His music is highly structured and yet transcends the structure, as great art does. The key to living well may be in the balance between an imposed structure and spontaneity of action.

s said...

amy, thanks for adding me to your feed! though i think your site is waaay too cool compared to my modest virtual-home...way to keep me accountable though! to be continued!

s (sunny)