(For the original story in full, go here. At the top if the story is a link to the audio of the performance - beautiful...)
Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.
4 minutes later:The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the till and, without stopping, continued to walk.
6 minutes:A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
10 minutes:A 3 year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly, as the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on.
45 minutes:The musician played. Only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.
1 hour:He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be:If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments...
How many other things are we missing?
One night, late, I was walking through downtown Atlanta, heading for the MARTA station and the last train to where my car was parked at the north end of the line.
I had maybe a few minutes before it was a long walk home.
Outside the station was a man with a coffee cup. He sang gospel and blues music, eyes close, head tilted upward, carried by his songs to some other place. He was older, dressed shabbily, and black - in other words, marginalized by society and the very person I was taught (as a young white woman) to fear, to ignore.
He sang beautifully, a little roughness on the edges of his notes, but the music was clean, and sweet. He happened to be singing something I knew, and knew well. The train was coming, I knew...but some things are more important. I stopped and sang with him, harmonizing his baritone with my alto.
I had train fare and a little more in my pocket, and that was it. I was young, constantly broke, and didn't have coin to spare for anything...every penny was accounted for, saved for rolling to pay the next bill, buy the next lot of groceries...but I could miss a meal or do without the phone for a day or two. I put everything but my train fare into his little Styrofoam cup, when we'd finished singing. I never asked his name, nor he mine, and we didn't exchange anything but the music and his soft "thank you, miss" as I walked on...
I like to think that maybe I wouldn't recognize the young man as Joshua Bell (because honestly, I don't know who he is)(but you can bet I'm going to look him up!) but I would recognize the music, and the beauty of the soul behind it, and I like to think that I would stop, smile, share the song, and empty what I can spare and a bit more besides into his violin case as a thanks for sending a little more of the song out into the world. I like to think I would not be in such a rush that I couldn't pause and let my child revel in the wonder of the notes pouring forth from the strings, catching them with his eager ears and storing them for later days in his memory's hoard.
I like to think I DO see the small things...that I DON'T miss the beauty and wonder that surrounds me...and I like to think I'm blessed with friends like you who notice, too, and share it because sharing makes it all the better.