John T. Griffith 5:14 p.m., May 22
Stop and Smell the Roses (And Leave a Tip for Joshua Bell)
I got one of these chain letter emails. But this one I found rather interesting. I did a bit of research, something I hate I do. I had to, though. I wanted to make sure the story was legit. And it turns out it is. The Washington Post ran it, and Snopes says it's true.
Here it is:
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, continued 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?
NOW...HERE IS MY PROBLEM WITH ALL THIS. It does make you think, but...
First, if you would've thrown Jimi Hendrix in a subway station in 1965, with his crazy hair and headband, and a small amplifier, I'm guessing people would walk by him, too. Mostly because society isn't filled with musicians, so we don't appreciate some elaborate arrangement Hendrix or Bell is playing.
Second, in the subway, people are in a hurry to get where they're going. Sometimes people stop and appreciate things. It's why I loved that scene in The Visitor where the bored professor first hears the immigrant playing bongos in a park with others. Or the scene in The Prince of Tides, when Streisands son plays, against his will, for football coach Nick Nolte. And it's a thing of beauty. Yet it's in a train station, and people walk by, in a hurry to get where they're going.
Also...this proves another thing I've always said. With music, so many people just want to go to the "event". I remember thinking it was cool that the Eagles got back together and reunited. When I saw the ticket prices, I didn't bother to go. My friend that did, was peppered with questions from me about what songs they did. And he wasn't even sure. He said he was just there to hang out and for the thrill of it all.
I had another friend buy his wife tickets to the Rolling Stones for their anniversary. I said, "That's a gift you want, not a gift for her." He claimed she loved the Stones. And as we sat there playing Scrabble and his wife pulled up, I said that she probably couldn't name five Stones songs by their actual titles. She named two.
And with classical musicians, or someone like Yo Yo Ma, Josh Bell, that blind dude that sings opera...they start to get this buzz and people pay $100 a ticket.
It's almost the same thing I've been saying about abstract art for years. If your 5-year-old does a piece with swirling colors everywhere, you put it on the fridge with a magnet. It stays there for a few weeks. You may ask your kid what it is, and he says "Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds" (the inspiration of this song died recently, in her mid-40s). Yet, if your dad isn't John Lennon and writing a song about that picture...or it doesn't say Jackson Pollock in the corner, the painting gets thrown away.
And you'd pay $20 to go into the Guggenheim to see a Pollock.