Before an audience of game designers, after
two days prodding the collision
of art and mechanics, of
how a player in a game is art,
a speaker tells a story:
A famous violinist plays for tips
(I say, that was Joshua Bell.)
someplace filled with busy people
(It was a Metro station, during rush hour.)
on a million-dollar violin
(A Stradivarius. It was his Stradivarius).
And then, once too often interrupted, point forgotten,
the speaker moves on (and I know I’m an ass).
I try to believe that he first had a query,
“What was his name?”
until the man behind me asks,
“But what was the point of the story?”
To sum up: He played, and no one paused.
As a child, when music classes moved from
rhythm instruments and songs
to chorus, band or strings,
I had one aspiration: to play my great-aunt’s violin,
handed down to my mother, bearing
family stories of forbidden music
played in secret, of my grandparents’
secret courtship in the graveyard.
Mine was a comical proposal for a cracked instrument.
Not long until I let it go, never rising beyond
mechanical accuracy among sheet and bow and string.
Perhaps in those two years, I shored up my eventual delight
on finding that music is math, the harmonic
resonance of strings, halves and thirds and finer lengths
that match to frequencies, the shapes of
instruments and the shapes of waves,
all pressures traveling through matter
to the tympanic membrane, each mundane part
of what makes it music as mechanical
as my practice on a secondhand violin.
But my delight’s enriched
in the tale of the busker (Joshua Bell) in the metro
(The story won a Pulitzer) who also, on “The Splendid Table,”
made Italian pasta from the age of Stradivari (Thank you,
Lynne Rosetto Kasper, for keeping him from knives,
but a caramelizing burn is just as ruinous).
The harmony arises from knowing, in the collision
of music and mechanics, of art and games, fingers
that pluck music from an 18th-century violin
may also, when the instrument is put away,
turn to controller, Unreal, Quake.