Education Opinion

Sweet Music, Tips in the Bucket, an Old Violin

By LeaderTalk Contributor — July 20, 2009 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The musicians are coming back to New Orleans even if the business investors are not. They are everywhere. They are on the streets of the Quarter and in the clubs and bars on Frenchmans Street. Listen to them play. Feel them. Put whatever you have in their guitar cases and plastic tip buckets because, as near as I can tell, they are all we have left of New Orleans.

And as street musicians, they are all we have of whatever the soul of America ever was.

There is that haunting Washington Post social experiment called “Pearls Before Breakfast”. Perhaps you read it. Or not. Perhaps you were on your way to work in your busy life as a school leader and you were just too stressed to stop and listen.

1,097 commuters raced past the street musician in L’Enfant Plaza in Washington DC one January morning, on their way to their beltway jobs as policy analysts and consultants and government workers. They heard him. But they didn’t listen. They kept their heads down and avoided eye contact. They stayed clear of his violin case for fear they would be shamed into fishing for a few loose quarters. Some had their IPods on so they could drown him out. Others had cell phones-- the perfect ploy for the frenetic train patron already enwrapped in the day’s e-mail and text messages.

And that was their loss.

He was no vagabond fiddler begging for a cup of coffee. He was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s most renowned classical musicians, playing some of the most elegant music ever created on a $3.5 million Stradivarius that was hand-crafted in 1713. On this particular morning, Joshua Bell managed $32 in tips from a handful of passer-bys who took the time to listen. It was “Chaconne”, written by Johann Sebastian Bach and just a few days before, Joshua Bell had played it in the Boston Symphony Hall to a capacity audience who each paid a minimum $100 a ticket to hear the performance.

Last week Paul McCartney played a free concert on a rooftop in New York City and he had a very different reception.

Perhaps the commuters were just a little more familiar with Paul McCartney than they were with Johann Sebastian Bach. (I know I am.) Perhaps they had allowed a little more time in their morning routine so they could afford a few extra minutes to stop and listen. Perhaps something in the loud bass and amplified foot pedals spoke to the soul of New Yorkers in a way that a violin-- however sweet or eerie -- could not speak to Washington DC bureaucrats in a hurry to make their first morning meeting.

Or is it the context? Or the fear of strangers in a train station? Or a general distrust of street performers? Or the fear of being scammed? Or worse?

Or are we in too big a hurry? Or does the music matter? Or do the arts matter? Or does Washington or New Orleans or New York City matter?

The Washington Post formulated a question for their action research: “In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, does beauty transcend?” They hypothesized that it would and that Joshua Bell would draw too big a crowd and pretty soon there would be anarchy. There wasn’t. He played and no one noticed.

Well, almost no one.

In his beautifully written summary of the experiment in L’Enfant Plaza, staff writer Gene Weingarten writes:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money,from the vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away."

Our students report back for school next week. They will pass by in search of sweet music that genuinely stirs them. I for one, will not abide the adults that rush them past when they only want one glimpse of that brilliant virtuoso that seems to give life a fleeting instant of meaning; or they pop their IPod headphones out to listen to a song whose name they cannot pronounce.

by Kevin W. Riley
El Milagro Weblog

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP