Friday, October 9, 2009

The Violinist

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 45 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 a 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 agasint the wall to listen to him, 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 3 year old boy. His mother tugged 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 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. 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 playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and 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 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?

The Washington Post won a Pulitzer in the feature writing category for Gene Weingarten’s April 2007 story about this experiment.

One last note ~

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Should you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?

So, this post has little, and everything, to do with writing, but, for me, it is still important.

There is infinite beauty in the world, and the written word. There are passages that make me laugh, and passages that make me cry. There are passages that make me so very angry.

In the end, every little passage should tie together in a neat little emotional package that affects your readers and makes them remember your book long after they read . . . The End.

Don’t skimp on the beauty of the written word, the emotions: humor, sadness, anger, joy, whatever. Infuse your writing with those emotions. Infuse the beauty of the world around you into your writing, the story your want to tell, so that people don’t just read you once, but many times over.

So, my questions, dear readers, is pretty much the same: Do you have time for beauty? Do you take time to smell the roses, coffee or whatever? Do you take time to listen to the leaves – popping, popping, popping – as they fall from a tree on a cold Autumn morning? Do you stop when the cardinal sings it’s trilling song? Do you watch the hummingbirds battle over the feeder? Do you stop or do you just keep on walking?

Last, but not least . . .

. . . find moments to stop and listen, to enjoy the world around you!


Tess said...

I love, love this post, Scott! Well said.

I think part of it (if I imagine myself in that subway) is the fact that I have a train to catch and a job to keep and little time to spare in that specific situation. If I had purchased tickets to his performance, I would have gotten a sitter and taken off of work and allocated time to relax.

But, you are right. We need to recognize the beauty that is right in front of us every single day. Excellent thoughts.

Lady Glamis said...

This is such a good post. It's very beautiful! Sadly, we all have busy lives and it's so hard to make ourselves stop and sacrifice other things to enjoy what else is around is. It's very sad, indeed.

But writing... that always helps me stop and think, and as I look out on the world in the bustle of my busy life, I think twice about the things see. I breathe a little deeper.

Davin Malasarn said...

I've pushed this article onto a lot of people! I think it was a fascinating experiment. To me, this is about when art becomes good. Would a brilliant painting look as good in a garage sale as it does in the Louvre? It's something we can never know, or rather, I guess Joshua Bell points out that location and setting does matter.

I make time for beauty. I decided about two years ago that I wasn't going to conform to the heavy work schedules that so many people do. I don't want life to pass me by.

Scott said...

Tess - I think this post ties in with the one you did a few weeks ago, or maybe longer. I try not to let my hectic schedule stop me from noticing the world around me, just like that autumn day last year when the leaves were popping off the tree. I was rushed, the dog was dawdling, and suddenly the leaves were popping. I stood there for a few minutes just watching the leaves pop and fall!

Lady Glamis - well, see above. I think one thing that always stayed with me was an article I read by a woman who had recently lost her cat. She made the comment that she wished, a thousand times over, that she hadn't pushed her cat away when it came up begging for attention while she was writing. I've done the same thing, but I always try to remember when the cats and/or dogs are craving attention, to stop for just a moment. : )

Davin - it's a hard choice to make time for beauty when the hectic schedules of life are demanding our full attention. I'm glad you've made that choice, as have I, for the most part. : )