4.07.2007

a little test

Every single day there are 20 query letters waiting for me.
No jacket flap copy to tell me it's a masterpiece, no blurbs, no marketing copy.
Just raw pages.

One of the very very hardest things about being an agent is learning to read stuff and identify really good things with no clues. Frankly, I'm still not as skilled at that as I hope to be (take comfort all you undiscovered masters out there!).

I think of that when I read things like this in the Washington Post.

And I always give money to street musicians.

54 comments:

Rllgthunder said...

You seem to be waxing philosophically today, Miss Snark.

Diantha said...

Fascinating commentary on Life in America. I think the most interesting line in the article was this:

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.

Children are naturally curious. It's a trait we adults could benefit from rediscovering.

The piece brought forth memories of the street musicians I've had the pleasure of hearing. I'll never forget the magnificent baritone who gathered a crowd in Vienna with his renditions of gospel songs.

D.

Natalie said...

This really says something about "Stop and smell the roses." or, in this case, "Stop and hear the music."

Are our lives really that busy?
Yowzer.

Anonymous said...

OMG - a Strad in a subway. I totally melt for even mediocre violins. I'd be in a puddle on the floor.

Chumplet said...

Me, too. The acoustics in subway corridors are great. We have a lot of talented musicians in Toronto who buy special permits in order to play. I often stop when the music is especially haunting.

They touched on the subject of art taken out of the museum. Many wouldn't recognize famous pieces if they were in a restaurant downstairs.

Gerri said...

.....

damn.

.....

ND said...

You have my sympathy. I'm editing an anthology and going through much the same thing. (Though not 20 stories a day. I do wish!)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I've been there . . . well, not the whole genius at age 4 creating masterpieces place, but definitely the award winning musician playing on a street corner to see what happens place. Cretins, all of you!

Jaye Wells said...

Fascinating article. Thanks for sharing it.

Joelle said...

Thank you so much for this link. I would've missed it. I read the whole thing and now I'm printing it. It's 22 pages! I'm not sure what it was, but this piece really spoke to me. Thanks again. You're the best!

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! Thank you for posting this incredible look at our "culture"...it really got to me. I'll be unnerved by it for quite some time.

Miranda

Katie said...

I'm an LA resident, God only knows if we have musicians in our subways. But one of my favorite moments in New York was being in a subway station and hearing a phenomenal opera duet and "forgetting" that it wasn't just part of the ambience.

I'm too shy to approach musicians unless I've been bathing in the ginbucket. But I think many people appreciate them more than they know.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and nearly impossible to pass.

I was having an early dinner with my then wife: Austin, Texas. Ritzy place with peacocks. Between appetizers and dinner I realize we were hearing virtuosity on the house piano.

Bought him a glass of champagne and used it to bribe a conversation. Starving artist earning a buck. He was very complimentary. No one ever paid attention, much less gave him a compliment.

Ran into him five years later. Between recordings, he was teaching a master class in New York that my sister happened to be taking.

Most of us compartmentalize our lives. Great art hangs in museums. If a classical musician were great, why would he be playing on a street corner? Great writers have agents and publishers. Except when they don't.

Most of your Snarklings want to learn how to get published. I am learning how to pan for gold.

- Edward

Craig Steffen said...

That's pretty cool.

I must admit...I spent a lot of the time trying to figure out if the article was written from a narrative voice, or if it was really, physically done. I haven't clicked on the video links, but I suppose those would tend to lead one to believe that it physically happened.

Assuming it WAS real...it's pretty cool that he would be willing to put himself (and his instrument) up to it. That must have been some experience for him, as well.

Thanks for the link, Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

Oh,oh,OH! Loved this--what it revealed about us, THE RED VIOLIN reference (dramatic and emotional movie), and the comment by Billy Collins.

Thub-dub, thub-dub. Don't ever abuse it or lose it.

Word verification? April 1, perhaps? Oh, well.

Pepper Smith said...

Wow. That just leaves me not knowing what to say.

Art out of context, indeed. I'm speechless over the response he got.

Gina Black said...

That was lovely to hear and sad to read. Thanks for that bit of poignancy, Miss S.

i said the sparrow said...

"nobody stopped to hear him,
though he played so sweet and high
they knew he had never been on their tv
so they passed his music by
i meant to go over and ask for a song
maybe put on a harmony
i heard his refrain as the signal changed
he was playing real good for free"

(Joni Mitchell)

Petrea Burchard said...

Katie, me too. I don't get to downtown LA much but I don't remember street musicians there. It's something I miss about Chicago. Even so, I don't remember any Chi-town subway music approaching this quality.

Happy to be a freelancer. I get to stop and listen from time to time.

Southern Writer said...

What a fine egg to find in my basket today.

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow, will not show his head;
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished ...

Thank you for posting this, Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, wonderfully rendered. I should live so long as to write such a superb piece of work.

Artiste said...

Oh, gosh. How sad is it that I'm not surprised? I always stop and listen and give a few bucks to street musicians who can play, and toss some coins to those who can't. But I have the luxury of time and ability to see, hear, and feel the world around me. I'll bet if you put Bell on a street corner in a small town, people would listen.

AM said...

I love Gene Weingarten's stuff. Love it.

SAND STORM said...

Now suppose a writer was to be reading from his manuscript down at the station or on the corner of Yap & Gin would anyone stop to listen?

Brandi. said...

Like Diantha, I loved the idea that all children are born with poetry, but as we age, we lose our sense for it.

There's almost always a great musician on the red line State St. platform (northbound) in Chicago. I'm pretty good about giving money, but not so great about stopping if my train is coming.

A Paperback Writer said...

Okay, I've been a street performer (folkdancing, not classical music) everywhere from China to San Francisco. I've done shopping malls and parking lots and once even a Shell Oil station in Sweden.
Now, I'm not saying the quality of what my troupes were doing was anything like world class, but it was always interesting to watch who would stop and who wouldn't. I can assure you that shopping malls are better for attracting an audience than a gas station is; people aren't in as much of a hurry in a mall.
And kids always want to watch -- and join in.
As for this situation, if I'd been in a hurry on my way to work, I wouldn't have stayed very long either. Sad but true. But if I'd seen him in a park or some other more relaxed space, I would've stopped and stayed, although I would never have known who he was.
The moral of this: yes, we adults rush around a lot, but we do have our moments. I bet if this had taken place in a park or a mall, more people would've gathered to watch.

Eileen said...

There is a fellow in Victoria BC who plays the violin on the street wearing a Darth Vadar costume. The reasons why aren't clear, but I love both listening to him and watching the reactions of others. Thanks for this one.

Heatherlynne said...

I live in a secluded rural area where we don't get to see people like this on the streets. I went to San Francisco once with my best friend and she had to keep pulling me away from all the street performers! If I lived there, I'd never make it to work!

Toddie said...

That was a freakin' brilliant article. Great premise, great execution. I loved every word of it. And my very favorite place to hang out is Pike Place Market in Seattle, where I try to listen to and appreciate (both monetarily and by listening) as many of the buskers as possible.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Miss Snark. This one will stay with me. It actually reminds me of a portion of an HBO "Subway Stories" from some years back; I don't remember the details, but it involved beautiful music in a subway station, and it moved me to tears.

I'm pretty sure I would have at least slowed down and lingered if I had been passing in this situation (or I would like to think so), because I've done that before, but wow -- the beauty those people (and all too often, all of us on a daily basis) are missing because we're "too busy".

Happy Easter, Miss Snark.

Rob in Denver said...

That's sad... Josh Freaking Bell's performing in your subway stop and you can't take a second to even listen (let alone drop in some change)?

ithaca said...

I heard the Joni Mitchell song quoted by an earlier commenter years ago. I thought: Well, if I hear a busker I think is brilliant I should give the kind of money I'd have to pay for a ticket. So I started giving $20 to buskers I thought were brilliant.

There haven't been enough to make much of a dent in my bank account (slush pile statistics apply). The interesting thing is that, if you stand back listening to the music and then throw $20 in the case and say Thank you, that was wonderful, it's so rare that you usually end up talking to the musician, going out for a drink, getting to know someone extraordinary.

I recommend this apparently quixotic policy to all snarklings.

Bernita said...

Perception/assumption is all.
If you are on the street corner, in the slush pile, you are perceived, automatically as...

Thank you, Miss Snark dear.

LKH said...

A fascinating and well-rendered article. The WP reporters did a good job.

'Fungible' is my new word of the day.

Maria said...

WOW.

michaelgav said...

I used to do that for beer money. Not classical (I was never a good enough guitar player to do that), but blues and folk songs, both angry and funny. My spot was the Staten Island Ferry, where commuters were stuck with you for twenty-five minutes whether they wanted you there or not.

The contrasts between the crush of a Wall Street commute and the serenity of crossing New York Harbor, passing the Statue and approaching the skyline (yes, with those two majestic towers), made for a great setting to perform. People invariably warmed to it after about ten minutes, and I could make $30 or $40 a trip.

The key was to be engaging -- to look at people, talk between songs, make 'em laugh, if possible, or at least smile.

Great article. Gene Weingarten used to be Dave Barry's editor in Miami, now writes funny stuff in the Post, and does a weekly online chat at Washpost.com.

Walt said...

I once stood outside Carnegie Hall the night of a performance, giving a street PowerPoint from my laptop, with an open briefcase at my feet, primed with a few bills.

A few parents stopped to watch, but were quickly jerked away by their kids.

Heidi the Hick said...

I did NOT grow up with classical music. I grew up with four-part harmonies. In church.

Then I married a fella who started violin at age 3.

I still don't know much about classical despite my in-laws rabid enthusiasm for it, but...I know Joshua Bell. I can't say I'd recognize him in the street but I do know that I hit the play button on that video and darn near wept. My kids stopped playing and listened with wide eyes and open mouths.

I wish I could say that if I'd been rushing through the subway station on my way to work I'd stop and listen but I can't relate to that life. I have never ever taken the subway to work and I plan to never have to.

My husband records musicians for a living. Sometimes on our rare trips to the downtown city, we'll stop to listen... if they're good.

If anybody reading this has not seen The Red Violin, I'm tellling you, You Must See It.

Anonymous said...

~walt: made me laugh.

~God helps the child who's got his own platform.

Anonymous said...

What I found so moving about this article was that JOSHUA BELL was willing to participate. I have seen him perform in concerts, and he is amazing. My 12 year old (who plays violin) adores him.

What a kind, generous, and humble man he must be!

Petrea Burchard said...

There are always musicians at the farmers markets here in soCal. Some good ones, usually rockers, not classical. I'd love to see a classical violinist, but for now I give a couple of bucks to the guy who sings Mexican ballads by the vegetable stand. Next Saturday, I'll stay and listen longer.

Corn Dog said...

D.C. gets Joshua Bell. We get this
dude down in our BART hole. And no, I didn't give him any money. He only had two strings on his guitar and I don't think he was hitting either one of them. Day after day, we commuters get treated with a variety of ear wrenching "music" as we enter the echo-y underground BART system. This guy simply happened to be less noisy then most. THe "musician" that is like nails on a chalkboard is the small Asian man with his 2 string banjo. He will almost break your eardrums and send you screaming in pain almost before you can board your train.

Perhaps The Post might have been a little kinder to the passing commuters had they considered the torture we go through every single day with these street "musicians." And yet we smile. I gave quarters to Crazy Grandma yesterday, who can't carry a tune and sings acapella with the aid of a microphone but makes no sense whatsoever. She wears a natty blue pants suit with matching blue eye shadow but she doesn't smell of booze or crack, so I pay her.

JDuncan said...

Well...that was just f'ing amazing.

Li said...

Thank you for linking to this! My ex-husband played in the subways in NYC and he once had the most amazing experience--someone stopped to listen to him and compliment his tone, and it turned out to be Kurt Masur, who was the conductor for the NY Philharmonic! But most days it went pretty much the way it did for Joshua Bell. I don't find it discouraging, though. When you think of how busy most people are, how stressed, how broke, the fact that anyone stops to listen and give some money is actually inspiring.

Conda said...

What really struck me was "context counts" as when what would happen if you took a painting by a well-known artist and took off the frame then put it in a restaurant. My dad was a successful artist, and context sure does count. The framing alone says "pro" and worth the money (and frames themselves often cost thousands).

And as a writer who's in a writers' group of excellent writers and who critical reads, I've been struck sometimes with: "my wg mate is a better writer, why did I buy this?" The answer is sometimes packaging.

Anonymous said...

Andre Rieu I would have recognized.

sunjunkie said...

Thanks so much for linking to this! Food for thought. Yum!

Issendai said...

I'm with Corn Dog. Boston has some phenomenally bad subway performers, as well as some good but way-too-loud subway performers, so now all performers annoy me. Why should I give money to some random person for playing music I don't like that's making it impossible to concentrate on what I really want to think/read/listen to?

The snobbery implied in the article also astonished me. It's classical music--everyone should love it! How horrible the commuters were not to stop and listen! But what if it were brilliantly performed rap by one of the world's top artists? What about an impromptu performance of banjo music? accordion? country music about beer? Would people be philistines not to stop and listen then?

Beth said...

It is astonishing to me--and rather heartbreaking--how people could be so deaf and blind as to walk past one of the world's greatest musicians playing one of the world's most finely made instruments...and not even give him a glance.

Twill said...

Ditto on issendai's remarks regarding the snobbery explicit in the entire article. The reporter likes the particular kind of music involved, and therefore every person who doesn't instantly respond to the music must be a heathen. This, in a setting in which the listeners are by definition under time pressure and in transit from one place to another.

Clearly paperback writer's remarks regarding the different response likely in other kinds of public spaces (malls, parks etc) are spot-on.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I don't think the reporter was being snobby. Of course people pass bad street musicians all the time. If the very taleted Mos Def was rapping and was in disguise I think the same think would have happened to him.

Have we become so cynical and focused on making the almighty dollar that we cannot stop for two seconds to hear beautiful music? I really worry about the state of the arts in this country. If art defines a culture, we are in major trouble.

The idea that people were so pressed for time they couldn't stop was to me the point of the whole article.

Anonymous said...

There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog: www.SawLady.com/blog
She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters... I thought you might find it interesting.

takoda said...

I used to work in D.C., and ride the subway. I loved the street musicians. They made me feel human before and after work. Even if their playing/singing was so bad, it was nice to see someone who had emotion on his/her face. Have you ever ridden the subway? You will know what I mean about being surrounded by people with robotic faces. Now, whenever I pass a street musician with my kids (which isn't very often), I give them each a dollar to toss into the basket, and we stand and listen for a couple of minutes.

Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.

Denise said...

Oh Miss Snark
To my shame, I was one of the 1097 commuters who passed by, and kept my hands in my pocket. My "excuse" is that I was listening to my ipod, and that I always walk up the escalator so I didn't have nearly 2 minutes to make up my mind before I stiffed him - but even so, my only thought was "I haven't seen a busker here in months, poor guy probably won't have much to show for his efforts."
Mea culpa - another phillistine...