time to change the way we view music and the arts

You Can’t Ring the Bell of Humility Loudly.

“The lady doth protest too much methinks.” 
– Shakespeare, from Hamlet, Act III, Scene II

This quote often pops up in modern day conversation, usually modified, implying a sense of one’s unspoken opposing stance toward whatever issue they speak of in excess.

It’s entertaining on occasion, to catch someone in this predicament if their silent truth is of positive nature.
If you’re found out to be against something you claim to love or support, however, that can be problematic –even more so if you’re found out via your own accidental contradiction spoked aloud.

The latter, rather than the more eloquent, subtle former, is what I came across while reviewing video clips from one major broadcasting station, CBS. The modern day, star violinist, Joshua Bell, whom I have mentioned many times as a figure of example, has placed himself in the momentary spotlight of media scrutiny once again. He spoke on Tuesday about a few different topics regarding recent project and career developments, as well as somewhat touching upon the subject of his upbringing as a musician, how he views music’s importance in education and the kind of image he likes to project as a high profile player.

Let me fair and clear, as I want anyone who thinks I might start protesting too much myself, to keep this in mind: I do speak high praise of Bell, he has been an instrumentalist I have idolized since I started playing the violin and I will never pass up the chance to hear him perform if I can help it.

That said, after listening to Bell’s interview with CBS newscasters Erica Hill and Gayle King, I cannot deny coming away with an unpleasant ringing of the word irony in my ears.

The interview started out centered around the recent release of his 36th album, “French Impressions,” as one would expect when the release was just last month. Right from the start I was taken in by the unfolding discussion because Bell positively tackled a common notion/stereotype/expectation that classical music lacks excitement.

Hill: “It’s not exactly what people expect, when they hear a violinist.”
Bell: “What, you mean like… 

*simultaneously over Bell*  

Hill: “To see so much energy.”
Bell con’t: …energy and excitement? That’s a misconception about classical music. I mean, it’s…it can be the most exciting music.”

Things continued in this fashion of enlightenment per se, as King and Hill both expressed a certain amount of awe at Bell’s prowess and a sense of genuine discovery upon learning what playing the violin can demand (and bring out) of a person physically, emotionally and mentally. Prior to a certain point in the interview, one would be hard pressed to have any inkling of the dismay I referred to if this was the first introduction they were getting to Bell in the media. In not wanting to rehash the entire interview, I’ll cut to the important part of the chase.

Bell placed heavy emphasis on his support of music in school education, on his efforts to visit schools when not touring, speaking with an air of disappointment and about how “music gets dropped from programs left and right.” Hinged on this belief that music should be encouraged among all students was a declaration by Bell about traditional concert dress.

“[Playing the violin] is sort of athletic –which is why I abandoned the white tie and tails, which used to be customary. Everyone wore [them,] which is unfortunate because the music is not, …I think, it conjures up an impression of classical music as being very formal. It doesn’t have to be like that and the music itself is absolutely not like that.”

At this point Bell has stressed so much progressive, accessible thinking on behalf of classical music in such a short time frame, that he may appear the ‘ultimate poster child for a down-to-earth music master.’ Certainly this A-lister musician has shown to have a relatable factor to match his technical caliber. Maybe classical music isn’t so snobby after all…


Sorry to so abruptly ruin this utopian scenario of average people and A-listers, however, after all the fervor and sincerity Bell put forth promoting classical’s coolness factor and its ‘everyone factor’ and its ‘Classical musicians aren’t on a separate plane’ factor,  he shatters this heavily pristine coat of transparency and humility by blatantly tossing out an arrogant line, (of what would have to be 100% sarcastic proportions,) before saving face by speaking kindly of Whitney Houston and stating how he “likes all different kinds of music.”

Hill: “One quick question: Of all the Grammy nominees, this year, is there one you really    liked? Contemporary Artist?”
Bell: “Um, you know what? I wasn’t nominated this year, so I didn’t watch.”

If total sarcasm was not the case (as I suspect it not to be,) I can’t wholly enjoy the clip. It would be as if Bell walked on stage to perform, perfectly executed a piece and right when he goes to play the last chord, digs his bow into the strings and privies the audience to a toneless screech before playing the intended notes. Sure, one shouldn’t dwell on a single slip or error, but as is an unfortunate element of marketing, PR and psychology, “for every individual who has a negative experience, people share this experience with 10-12 others.”
(Cit. Lecture Notes: 9-24-09 “Market Orientation,” Professor Anne Laure-Sellier)

Not that I plan on making this one comment my water cooler talk for the next 10 people I meet but really, as someone who isn’t hearing Bell speak for the first time, is well aware of his proven talent and has been an avid fan, if I’m occasionally put off by Bell’s recurring inability to not be conceited for an entire television appearance, then I’d imagine it’s not farfetched to think classical newcomers might find him disingenuously elitist when all is said and done. The point is that words can mean nothing and everything at the same time.

To hear the interview from start to finish, the video is below.

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