Monday, September 14, 2009

stop and listen



Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin 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 hat and, without stopping, continue d 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. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but 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 their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $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 greatest 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 true 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 this: 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 ever made.... How many other things are we missing?



some of you might remember that i spent the first week of last month on the outer banks of north carolina in a huge beach house with my mom's side of the family for a wonderful family reunion. there were 26 people in the house, sharing meals, playing games, watching tv, and, of course, enjoying the sand, sun, and the sea!
my two cousins, heather and jessica, had their respective sons about a month apart from one another and so we had two 3 year olds scrambling around the house. heather's son, ben, is a wide-eyed, handsome boy, quiet and inquisitive, but ready to have big fun when the opportunity arises. jessica's son, tristan, is the devil. this kid hurled himself around that house like a dervish, plowing through games, activities, furniture, and people like they just weren't there. a force of nature and a clever one at that. tristan was constantly encouraging ben to follow him as they raced through the house together and it was all we could do the first day or so to tell them both that, if they jumped off the balconies, they'd probably die.
at one point, when he got bored, a malevolent gleam appeared in tristan's eye as he announced to ben that he was going to get his father. to ben this meant that tristan was gonna steal his daddy and make him his own, to which ben let out a long swooping, worried, "noooo." the two raced over to where ben's father, john, was sitting and tristan, being faster, wrapped his small arms around john's legs and declared--"I GOT YOUR DADDY!" to which, ben sat down and burst into tears.

i thought it was hilarious.
and i wonder if it'll have the same effect today when i say,
"hey, matt--i got your daddy!"


have a great week!
smell ya later!


Brian said...

I think it is a combination of things. People in a subway station in the morning are on a schedule - usually behind it, truth be told - and need to get to work.

We also are a society where appearance colors our perception of value. Tests hae shown that folks will perceive a wine as being better than it is when they are told that it is more expensive than it really is.

Also, sad to say, but as the sales charts show us, we are not a culture that is big on classical music. Perhaps it is the lack of music appretiation courses in our education system, but music that has stood the test of time languishes on the shelf while this year's "American Idol" goes platinum with a pop tune that goes in one ear and out the other.

~ Wendy ~ said...


I would like to think that I would have stopped to listen ... but truth be told - as Brian said, if I was running to an appointment or to catch another train .. would I have taken a moment or two to stop .. and listen..


... it's also sad that in today's world music is one of the first things to get cut from the budget in our schools.

It would be nice if this week we could all learn a lesson and take a moment to stop.. and listen .. and look ..

Matt Wieringo said...

About twelve years or so ago, during my one and only trip to the San Diego Comicon, I was walking around the town looking for somewhere cheap to eat dinner and heard the most incredible opera singing. I headed in the direction of the singing and when I turned a corner, I discovered it was a homeless man singing for spare change. One of the most amazing things I'd ever seen. My only regret was that I had no money to give him at the time.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that I get way too into whatever it is I'm doing. I'm constantly stressed about something, money, projects, politics, whatever it is. But about 3 months ago, I decided to turn off the radio on my way to and from work... and just sat there by myself. I drive about 20 min to work, and after I turned off my radio, I started to notice a lot of things I'd never seen in the 10 years I've been driving the same 20 min to work. Then, just last week, I started walking at lunch (gotta look trim for my friends when I see em' in Baltimore) and again, I'm alone for an hour walking ~ 2 miles, and it's awesome. I think we all need to stop and smell the roses more. It's amazing what's out there if you open your eyes. Birds, the wind, trees, pretty cool stuff.

Brian said...

Sadly, I work in Boston, so that lunch time walk is decidedly urban with much less worth noticing.

Matt Wieringo said...

That's gotta suck! I've got multiple choices of great things to look at when I walk on my lunchbreak. Lately I've been walking up to the university and the, um, scenery is great since school is back in session. Usually, though, I either walk along the floodwall on the James River or along the Canal Walk, circling an island in the middle of the river. In the summer time, a lot of the college co-eds can be spied sunbathing. I love this town!