Monday, January 20, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

It’s a new year, a good time to listen more fully, think more deeply, and expect good things to result in the coming months.

THE MAN WITH THE VIOLIN, by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic, Annick Press, 2013. Postscript by Joshua Bell.

Joshua Bell is a violin virtuoso. Concertgoers around the world are willing to pay $100 per ticket to hear him play.

However, as an experiment seven years ago, a Washington D. C. newspaper asked him to dress like a street musician and play his priceless Stradivarius in the subway. Bell did this for 43 minutes.

Over a thousand people walked by. Only seven stopped to listen for more than a minute. No one applauded the music or the musician. At the end of the performance a grand total of $32.17 lay in the violin case at his feet. Apparently, all passersby thought they saw or heard was a simple street musician playing for pennies.

When children’s author Kathy Stinson heard this story, she began to wonder, as all writers do, “what if…” and The Man with the Violin began to grow upon the page.

As the inside cover says, “Dylan was someone who noticed things. His mom was someone who didn’t.”

Dylan’s mom pulls him through the subway. While she hurries, men with briefcases and lunch boxes, women pushing baby carriages and carrying flowers and bundles, teens, couples, and workmen rush around Dylan. Trains roar. Dylan begs to stop, yearns to listen to the man with the violin.

Expressive artwork by renowned illustrator Dusan Petricic keeps the focus on Dylan, his mom, and the man with the violin. The artist imbues the characters in the subway with enough detail that the reader knows each one has a story to tell. But he renders these characters in black and white. This isn’t their story. It’s Dylan’s.

Music, like a multi-colored ribbon, weaves its way through the black and white scene. Dylan struggles to hear the music, but it is swallowed up by the roar of the subway. Still, the music stays in Dylan’s head.

Later Dylan asks his Mom if "that man" will still be there. Mom responds, “What man?”

At this point I put the book down and stopped reading to a group of senior citizens. We talked about the difference in hearing, listening, and paying attention to the music in our lives.

Author Stinson continues her story about the fictitious Dylan, and her story has a happy ending.

The seniors, however, wanted to know if the arts are still taught in elementary school. Would today’s children appreciate the value of the Stradivarius or even know it is a violin? 

What about your children?


Hillview School Library