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bach and beauty and bureaucracy.

23 Feb Posted by in Blog, Uncategorized | Comments
bach and beauty and bureaucracy.

Johannes Brahms once wrote about Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne in D minor for violin in a letter to Claire Schumann –


‘On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.’


And it is with this piece that a dude in jeans, a t-shirt and ballcap started his forty-five-minute-long violin concert-of-sorts at a metro station in Washington D.C.


During that time one thousand and ninety-some people passed by. Seven people stopped to listen.



‘What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.’



W.H. Davies writes to begin a poem entitled Leisure (six stanzas later he ends it with ‘A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’).


What though – of the nearly eleven hundred people that walked through the metro lobby that morning – only one single person realized was that the dude was in fact a world-reknown violin virtuoso who had just sold out a concert in Boston a few days before where tickets went for an average of a hundred bucks a piece. And his violin he played was a 1710 Stradivarius worth a reputed three-and-a-half million. Dollars.


It was a sociological experiment that the humble but superstar-of-a-violinist – Joshua Bell – had agreed to when approached by the Washington Post. The idea of course was to see that if – under less-than-ideal circumstances (a bustling train station during morning rush hour chocked full of policy analysts and project managers and budget officers and consultants and bureaucrats suits and ties and all scrambling to get to work) and cloaking the identity of the performer under jeans and shirtsleeves – beauty so-to-speak could – as Emmanuel Kant may have envisioned – transcend it all.


But alas ….. it did not.


When asked afterwards people just said they were busy. Had other things on their mind. Some who were on their cellphones spoke louder as they passed him to compete with the ‘infernal racket.’ It seems perhaps the explosion in technology has in some ways limited – not expanded – our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly – with large thanks to the likes of Google and the Facebook and their filter bubbles – we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And cram our iStuff with music we already like.



No time to stop and listen to something that would have apparently made Brahms blow his brains out because of its beauty.



So it sort off makes me sad I guess. Maybe cos I’ve been on a Bach kick lately reading a couple of books and watching a couple more documentaries within the past few weeks about the late great Glenn Gould. Maybe cos even the pitiful and notoriously-retarded Youtube comments on a recording of Bach’s Chaconne by Itzhak Perlman are littered with things like ‘Not even Plato had the fortune to listen to such music’ and ‘Pure magic, plain and simple’ and ‘It is the sound of God when he cries.’ Maybe cos I hope that I would have stopped had I wandered through that particular metro station that particular morning even if I did not recognize the Chaconne in D minor.


Because hopefully I would have recognized the beauty and taken a moment or two to soak it in. Soak it up. Remember how Kant said ‘the beautiful itself is either enchanting or touching, or radiating or enticing.’


And leave then having been reminded … beauty is everywhere.


Looking out over a sea of mountains rising above valleys of clouds immersed under a shimmering sun. My son when he smiles without inhibition before he realizes he is doing so his hair in need of a cut so it’s starting to curl. A strain of a Bach melody held on the D string then taking off building and building elegantly to some ultimate end that should be able to most certainly transcend it all.




Thom Schroeder
Self-taught classical pianist, composer and songwriter. Currently working on a couple of rather immense symphonic rock projects that incorporate classical-esque, heavy Romantic-era sounds with an intense rock sound. Self-recording simple demos of what I am writing but currently looking for bandmates including a singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer along with an eventual producer and the lot to hopefully bring these songs to life.

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