“We have no time to stand and stare…”

by Daniel Murphy on April 10, 2007

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Imagine you’re on your way to work. It’s rush hour traffic at the metro and you’re squished in a crowd of commuters. As you travel up the escalator, coffee and donut in hand, to catch the 8:05 into the city, an out-of-place sound begins to rise above the din of early-morning traffic, above the scuffs and squeaks of shoes, above the hurried and insistent voices, above the blare of loudspeakers announcing arrivals and departures. It’s the sound of a violin. A man in baseball cap and jeans is ensconsed next to a trash basket, an open violin case at his feet, and he’s playing the instrument with masterful artistry — his phrasing and feeling are something special, something wondrous. The heartbreaking notes of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” echo and reverberate throughout the marbled space.

Would you stop to listen? Would you be willing to spare, say, five minutes for music that speaks to the heart and nourishes the soul? Would you spare a buck for a guy who plays his violin with passion, energy, and mastery? Would you recognize beauty and genius even if it was disguised as a street-corner busker?

The Washington Post performed a fascinating sociological experiment on January 12th this year. They convinced Joshua Bell — one of the world’s most famous virtuoso violonists — to play an impromptu “concert” during rush hour traffic in Washington DC’s L’Enfant Plaza Station. The question was simply this: “In a banal setting, at an incovenient time, would beauty transcend?”

Uh…apparently not. Bell, who plays a Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million and commands something close to $1,000 bucks a minute to perform before sold-out crowds all over the world, managed to rake in a little over $30 in a little less than an hour. Most commuters, some on cel phones and some listening to iPods, passed Bell by without a pause or a glance. Little did they know, they were missing a show many folks are willing to dish out upwards of $100 (for a cheapie ticket) to see.

The article is both highly amusing (Bell struck me as a charming fellow with a healthy sense-of-humor) and a little bit depressing. Ours is a beauty starved culture and here’s more evidence of it. How many of us are willing to stop and soak in beauty when given half a chance? An interesting tidbit from the article is that children were invariably drawn to Bell’s playing, but their parents ushered them along because it was more important to catch a train than to listen to some guy play dusty old music.

Fascinating article. Check it out here.c

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