Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An interesting perspective

Things have been a bit gloomy in our house lately. Yesterday evening when it was time to milk Matilda, I was annoyed to discover she was happily grazing on the far side of the property. This meant a lot more walking than I was in the mood to do.

I gathered the lead rope and set off, grumbling. The weather was growing cloudy, and a burst of sunlight broke through a cloud and illuminated the pasture, the woods, and the fields. I lifted my head and looked around, trying to see things as a stranger might.

And it was beautiful.

I often forget what a gorgeous place we live. We'll pull through Gypsy's imminent loss, of course, and in the meanwhile I hope I can keep things in perspective.

Which is why this story was as illuminating as the sunlight.

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin. It was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about forty-five minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a three-year-old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but 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. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the forty-five minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About twenty gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. 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 his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $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 priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?


  1. Like the world class violinist, overlooked in the morning rush hour, so are our families these days.

    I know you are dealing with the pending loss of a beloved family member. Take time to spent a few extra minutes with her, and listen to some great music.

    Take the time to slow down, people, slow down and listen.


  2. Oh, I can so see it. We miss so much. Even in an ugly subway, there can be beauty.

  3. You are right. We miss so much. Remember Emily begging her mama to look at her when St. Peter allowed her to return to earth after her death in Our Town? "Oh Mama, look at me, look at me, in a few years I'll be gone." We need to pay attention now: to look, to see, and to feel. Loved your piece.

  4. This made a big impression on my when I read it in the Washington Post (I think it was the Post) a few months ago. It's an incredible story.