Stop and Listen To The Music

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell. Photo: Erik Kabik

This story isn’t a new one – but it’s worth revisiting.

A few years ago, the Washington Post asked Joshua Bell, a world class violinist, if he’d be willing to put on street clothes and busk at one of the main train stations in Washington D.C.. They wanted to conduct an experiment in “context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

Bell agreed – and in January 2007 he played six classical pieces, for almost three quarters of an hour, in the middle of rush hour at the station:

Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements. But on that Friday in January, Joshua Bell was just another mendicant, competing for the attention of busy people on their way to work.

Beforehand, the organisers had bee a bit worried about possible outcomes – including the challenge of crowd control. They thought there might be problems as more and more people stopped to listen and recognised Bell. Crowds gathering, cameras flashing; perhaps even to the point of needing to call security to control things.

But they needn’t have worried. In three quarters of an hour almost 2,000 people passed by. But only 27  of them paused to give money – mostly small change – and only 7 people actually stopped to listen.  It’s also fascinating to learn that:

Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

Watch the video below or read the complete Washington Post article.

It’s a sobering story – and in its way a wake up call for all of us.  Even disregarding the main focus of the Washington Post’s experiment and the fact that Bell, a world-renowned violinist, remained unrecognised and unappreciated!

How often, in our chaotic, busy lives, to we allow ourselves to stop and listen to the music?

Perhaps, as one aspect of this story shows,  we should learn from our children – they know how to do it.

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