It’s January 12, 2007. A chilly morning in Washington DC, L’enfant Plaza Metro subway station. A young man in a baseball cap is standing there, violin at hand, playing his instrument. More than a thousand people pass through, most on route to work. After three minutes someone slows his pace, stops for a few moments. At the end of four minutes the violinist gets his first dollar: a woman throws it into his red hat without stopping. After six minutes a young man leans on the wall, listens to the music, checks his watch and hurries along. After ten minutes, a three year old stops but his mother drags him away. The child tries to stop again, but though he keeps turning his head, she pulls him on. A few children repeat that pattern, but all the parents force their youngsters to move ahead. Altogether only seven people stop briefly. He collects $32.17 from 27 passersby. After an hour of non-stop playing, he finishes, and silence resumes. No one claps.
Only one person recognized him: He knew him to be no other than violinist Joshua Bell, one of the greatest, most gifted and famous musicians in the world. Two days earlier, Joshua Bell played to a full house in Boston, where a ticket was $100. In both concerts, he played one of the most complex pieces ever to be written on his 3.5 million dollar, 300-year-old Stredivarius violin which was made in 1713.
I did not make up this story and I no longer remember where I first read about it. But this curious experiment, initiated by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten for which he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, continues to haunt me. It raises many critical questions and leaves much room for thought. I keep wondering, if we can’t even spare one minute to stop and listen to one of the world’s top, most renowned musicians, playing one of the best pieces ever written, using one of the finest instruments there are, how many other things do we miss, maybe because we didn’t “pay for them”, because we were running after other pieces of life, because we took the music for granted, not appreciating it for what it is, because we were not present??
We got to stop and listen. And even to this simple statement, I need to stop and listen…