orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

March 23, 2013

Stop, look and listen

Charles Holt
The Orange Leader

ORANGE — In a Washington, DC Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the Metro Station, most of them on their way to work. After about three minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

Four minutes later: the violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk. Six minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again. Ten minutes: a mother and child walked by. The mother pushed hard on the child and they continued to walk, the child turning his head the whole time. Several other children repeated this action, but every parent without exception forced their children to move on quickly. After one hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

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 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. This experiment raised several questions: (1) In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? (2) If so, do we stop to appreciate it? (3) 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 as we rush through life?  Will we expect to hear the voice of God in church tomorrow? Will we take the time to listen?