Dan Steinberg last fortnight wrote about the charm of little marathons, as opposed to the mega-events that attract so much attention. From his article, "Race for the Pure" (Washington Post, 18 Apr 2004 --- not coincidentally the date of the Boston Marathon this year):
At the 10-mile marker of February's annual Washington's Birthday Marathon in Greenbelt, amid the faint whiff of fertilizer wafting from surrounding Department of Agriculture fields, 137 marathoners rounded a bend, dipped down a hill and trickled past exactly one spectator: Ed Boden of Oriental, N.C., perched on an abandoned yellow refrigerator.
"It's what running is about ..." said Jan Beck of Dover, Del., "It's the real essence of running, without the thousands of people and the corporate atmosphere of the big races. It's back to the basics of running."
And Jeremy Eichler makes the same point for the universe of classical music, in a lovely profile of cellist Matt Haimovitz (New York Times, 2 May 2004). A couple of decades ago Haimovitz was a famous cello prodigy; now by choice he plays to tiny audiences in cafes, bars, and music clubs. Eichler's essay concludes:
But the most magical moment came after the show, when Mr. Haimovitz had started packing up and two middle-aged women came rushing into the room. They had read in the paper that he was in town, and they were crestfallen at having missed the show. Could he perhaps play something short for them? Mr. Haimovitz agreed and planted himself in a chair next to a table littered with beer bottles and an empty pack of cigarettes. The half dozen remaining audience members gathered around him in a semicircle.
Mr. Haimovitz closed his eyes, put bow to string and laid into the Prelude of Bach's First Cello Suite. He did not stop at the end of the movement but went on to play the entire work, about 20 minutes of music. It was some of the most moving and soulful playing heard by this listener in a very long time. The music seemed to pour out of his cello and wash over the huddled group, over the sea of empty tables and flimsy plastic chairs, over the bar and over the television flickering quietly in the opposite corner of the room.
What came through in that moment was the simplicity of the basic musical connection, and how it requires so little of the glittery packaging that can often pass for the concert experience itself. Ultimately, Mr. Haimovitz's tour may be proving the under-recognized value of new music in attracting new audiences. But the enraptured faces in the semicircle suggested an equally important insight into the power of smaller numbers, the richness of direct contact.
Perhaps classical music's audience problem could be solved if there were more living, breathing, palpable moments of exchange like the one that took place in this beer-drenched corner of a Mississippi pizza parlor. "It's so simple," Mr. Haimovitz said when happily back on the road, "to just take out your cello and start playing."
That's the key to the treasure in a host of areas: an individual, personal connection that dissolves the wall between "audience" and "actor" ...
(see also For Themselves (8 Jun 2003), ... )