The story is not a new one, it is from The Washington Post in 2007, but it was new to me and so I thought it should be shared anyway.
Do you think that you know talented music when you hear it? No matter what your musical-genre opinions are, if you heard astounding classical music being played you would be capable of recognizing it as something better than normal, wouldn’t you? Well I thought the very same thing, which is until I read this story about Joshua Bell, one of the world’s premiere violinists, playing in a subway station for change.
It was the 7 – 8 am work rush on a cold January business day morning in Washington, D.C. in the beginning of 2007. Joshua Bell brought with him his legendary Stradivarius violin, which is valued at an incomprehensible $3.5 million, and played six incredibly complex pieces from Bach. It took 43 minutes and approximately 1,100 people passed by him. He put out his instrument case, playing
the part of someone needing some extra cash, even though he just played sold out shows with $100 a seat ticket prices.
Apparently he played for about 1 hour. It is said he collected a total of $32 and never had more than 6 people stop to listen, and that was just for short intervals of time. A few children apparently tried hard to stop and listen, only to have their parents quickly move them on their way.
The Washington Post said they did this as a social experiment about people’s perception, taste and priorities. They wanted to raise the question if we can appreciate and find beauty around us during times and in manners that we are not accustomed to. The results were startling; if one of the most talented musicians on the planet, playing one of the most beautiful instruments ever created, goes by unnoticed then what else are we missing?
I would like to think that I would have noticed that the street performer, and his instrument – even if it was within a busy subway station – were of a rare quality and consequently stopped to listen. But to be completely honest I don’t know; I probably would have been in some sort of “commute mode” where I wouldn’t want to be “bothered” and would have just taken Joshua Bell for any other street performer and kept on walking. Chances are, because I wouldn’t ever think that I would encounter exquisite music on the subway, that I would turn off my mechanisms for recognizing beauty (and also deriving true pleasure from it) and miss it completely. So the lesson for us here is that true beauty and talent (especially of the musical kind) can come from anyone, at anytime, and that we must not think we “know” when and where we will encounter it; because we may just walk right past it…
By Sean Poynton Brna
Note: To read original article and hear a recording of Josh play go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html?hpid=features1