The Art of Appreciation

img_0567(Caveat: A different version of this essay appeared elsewhere, long ago and far away.)

It’s almost impossible for me to pass up an interesting consignment store, second-hand shop, or flea market. I love trolling for treasure because I never know what I’ll find. Sometimes nothing, it’s true, but more often than not I’ve walked away with something I truly cherish. Nothing expensive, mind you; that’s not what I’m looking for. My eyes are set on those things that speak to my heart.

Bit ago, I was puttering through an area Goodwill when I came across a CD of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. I bought it on a whim, mostly because of Bernstein’s name. (An aside here. When I was living in NYC many decades ago, the woman I shared an apartment with was given tickets to the NY Philharmonic by her boss. Not having a ready date, she invited me to go along. We dressed in our finest–not all that fine on our budget–and went, not knowing what we might hear or who would be conducting. And Lo, out walked Leonard Bernstein, five-thousand pounds of TNT in a 5’5″ frame. Watching him stride onto that stage was like watching the arrival of God, and I’ve never recovered.)

Anyway, I put the CD into the car play as I drove home.  My God.

All this time later, I still can’t listen to it without spouting tears, never mind finding sufficient words to describe the beauty of this recording. When my husband first heard it, he remarked that it was impossible for him to not think of Hugo Weaving in the movie “V for Vendetta,” and the image of the Old Bailey exploding. (Similarly, those born during a certain time period can’t hear the William Tell Overture without wanting to yell “Hi-Yo, Silver, away!”)

It’s not such a bad thing to connect a piece of classical music to a cinematic image. Oh, there’re those who’d say it is; those who feel that the purity of classical music should be experienced without the crass trappings of Hollywood. For some, though, a movie soundtrack may be their first experience of classical music, and where’s the harm in that?

Case in point: my love of classical music stems not from my mother’s ballet music phonograph records (yes, children, music was pressed into vinyl discs once upon a time), but from Saturday morning Warner Bros. cartoons. Bugs Bunny taught me to appreciate Rossini (“Rabbit of Seville”), Strauss and Tchaikovsky (“A Corny Concerto”), and Wagner (“Long-Haired Hare” and “What’s Opera, Doc?”).  Thanks to Bugs, Elmer, and the rest, I learned about passion and humor, turmoil and hilarity. I suspect watching those cartoons every Saturday also fed into my love of words and desire to write. Thanks, guys! (And if you’ve never seen them, run to YouTube and search them out. You won’t be sorry.)

Back in 2007, violinist Joshua Bell stood incognito in a cold Washington D.C. Metro Station and played six Bach pieces, some of the most intricate music ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million. The performance lasted approximately 45 minutes. Something approaching 2,000 people went through the station in that time. After three minutes, a man stopped for a few seconds, then hurried on. Four minutes later, a woman threw a dollar into Bell’s hat and kept walking. Six minutes later, a young man stopped briefly to listen before moving away. Ten minutes later, a three-year-old stopped to listen, but his mother pushed him along. This identical action was repeated by several other children, although every adult, without exception, forced them to move on quickly. In total, six people stopped to listen for a short while, and 20 gave money as they passed. Bell collected a total of $32. When he finished, silence took over. No one noticed when he left. No one applauded his performance.

This wasn’t a silly whim on Bell’s part, but a sociology experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities . The questions being raised were these: Do we perceive beauty when it’s presented to us in a common place environment, at an inappropriate hour? Do we recognize talent when it appears in an unexpected context?

If not, how much of the  world are we missing?

Whether it’s music or poetry, the ocean or stars, a baby’s cry or the last breath of a loved one, when the opportunity comes your way to share in the mystery, the beauty, hang the clock. Feed your soul.