September 05, 2013

The Man with the Violin

Written by Kathy Stinson
Illustrated by Dušan Petričić
Annick Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
August 2013

When Kathy Stinson coupled the story of world-famous violinist Joshua Bell's playing incognito in a Washington subway station with illustrator Dušan Petričić's distinguished artwork, The Man with the Violin became a brilliant portrayal of the sensitivities of children and the sad loss of that wonder by most adults.

Having originally heard Joshua Bell play solo violin for the main character in the movie "Ladies in Lavender" (in which a young Polish violinist is helped by two older British sisters after washing up on the Cornwall coast), I knew how his music could bring an audience to tears.  So it was surprising to learn that, in 2007, Joshua Bell participated in an experiment initiated by the Washington Post in which, wearing the outfit of a street musician (jeans and a baseball cap), Bell played his 1713 Stradivarius for transit goers for 45 minutes.  Only 7 of over a thousand people stopped to watch.  But here is the fascinating statistic:
"There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away." (Gene Weingarten, Sunday April 8, 2007, The Washington Post. Retrieved from on September 3, 2013.)

Kathy Stinson takes this astounding demographic and tells the story of a child who becomes enthralled by the music that he hears as his mother pulls him along on her way to work.  Dušan Petričić makes the music swirl and swoop in watercolour pastels of blue, purple, pink, green and peach among the black and white drabness of everyday travel of most adults.  The memory of that music continues to soothe Dylan as his day progresses, elevating him and brightening his day, even as the jarring clatter and clang of machines, dishes, voices drone on and on and on, no matter where he is.  Only when he hears the same music on the radio can Dylan get his mother's attention and take her along on his magical musical ride.

While Gene Weingarten and the Washington Post shared this musical experiment in print and in video on YouTube, Kathy Stinson's simple but powerful representation of The Man with the Violin, so subtly but poignantly depicted by Dušan Petričić's illustrations, is a far more convincing message of the capacity of music to enrich our lives and the wisdom of children that is too often and too easily disregarded.

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