Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Man With The Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic

"If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?"

At 7:51am on Friday, January 12, 2007, one of the world's most renowned violinists, Joshua Bell began performing at the L'Enfant Plaza Station in the Washington Metro. Dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a baseball cap, Bell began performing classical music on his priceless violin, a 1713 Huberman Stradivarius.

Bell opened his performance with what is considered one of the most difficult violin pieces to master,  Johann Sebastian Bach's Partitia No. 2 in D minor. His impromptu concert lasted a total of 43 minutes during which over a thousand people passed by him on their way to the trains. Few stopped to listen for any length of time and no one applauded when a piece was finished. Only one person recognized him and one little boy, three year old Evan, wanted to stop and listen but was prevented from doing so by his mother, in a rush to get him to his teacher and then to work.

It is this story that the picture book, The Man With The Violin tells. Little Dylan I(who is based on the real Evan) is someone who notices things. One Friday morning, while rushing with his mother into the subway station, Dylan notices something very unusual. He first hears the music, "...high notes soar to the ceiling....low notes swoop to the floor..."  Dylan asks his mother to wait so he can watch the man with violin, who sways to the music. But instead, he is hurried onto the escalator and down into the subway where the roar of the trains blurrrrrrs out the music. The music stays with Dylan all day and on the way home he asks his mother about the musician in the station. She does not remember. Later that night, the truth about the musician playing in the subway is revealed on the radio.

At the back of the picture book is the information about Joshua Bell, a short piece on the concert in the Washington Metro and a postscript by Bell. Bell writes, "Music require imagination and curiousity -- two things that children have aplenty -- and I believe the world would be a better place if every child's innate appreciation for music were fostered.... Plato is often credited as saying 'Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.'"

Dusan Petricic's illustrations convey the effect music has on the world around us. the sense of movement, the vibrant colours and the rich tones, all characteristics of music. While the world around Dylan is a mixture of greys and blues, the notes of music bring brilliant splashes of colour, and wide, sweeping movement to the world around him.

If you can get past the constant ads, the Washington post article, Pearls Before Breakfast: Can One of the nation's greatest musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour?  tells the story of Bell's adventure in the Washington Metro and more tellingly, of how little attention was given to him while he made music. This exercise paints a picture of an urban society so preoccupied it has lost touch with the small treasures of everyday life, a child's wonder, a musical masterpiece, a moment to linger and appreciate. Those passing by were stopped by a reporter outside the station and asked for a phone number so they could be contacted later in the day. Only one person mentioned the violinist when questioned about whether they had encountered anything unusual that morning. Below is a video of Joshua Bell playing the final movement of Bach's Chaconne. Enjoy!

Book Details:
The Man With The Violin by Kathy Stinson
Toronto: Annick Press 2013

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