By Andrew Battista
June Featured Essay
A commercial for New York University’s Langone Medical Center, of all things, got me thinking about what it means to live in New York City. The spot begins with a shot of Grand Central Station’s atrium. We hear the sound of someone playing a clarinet as a cluster of people walk by. Some of them pause briefly to appreciate the music, while others scurry on to their next job, meeting, or social engagement. After a couple of seconds, we see the clarinetist for the first time and realize that he’s no run-of-the-mill street performer. Dressed in leather shoes and a blazer, the man paces as he plays a flawless jazz solo. He smiles and makes eye contact with people walking by.
While this is happening, a narrator frames the scene as a commentary on life in New York: “What brings us here, to this place with the coldest winters and the hottest summers?” the voice asks. “We don’t come here to retire. We come here to live, to be challenged, to be inspired.” Next, we see the most inspired character in this commercial, a woman in the crowd. She bends down and takes out her own instrument, a violin she happens to be carrying, and leads the clarinetist into an extemporaneous, yet improbably polished, duet. The narrator reminds us that New York is “a city that demands fresh thinking and duly rewards it.”