Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stop and Smell the Roses, Bougainvillea... and the Violins

Photo of the month
Bougainvillea, Florida, 2003
Quote of the month:

Go mindless. Breathe. Let go. 
And remind yourself 
that this very moment is 
 the only one you know you have for sure.

This is not a new story - maybe it will be for some of you - either way I came across it again recently and think it is worth revisiting!  It is a true story.  I've double checked on  The story was covered in the Washington Post.  I also love that I briefly worked in this building, though not in 2007.

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, 2007, the middle of the morning rush hour.   A man emerged from the Metro at the L'Enfant Plaza station and positioned himself against a wall beside the trash can.  By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.

In the next 43 minutes, a violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L'Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats.  

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, 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? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?

Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.

A half-minute later, the first donation came. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.

Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that he played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look. 

A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her 3 year old son emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She's got his hand.  He keeps twisting around to look at the musician, as he is being propelled toward the door.

"There was a musician," the mother says, "and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time."  So the mother does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between her son's and the musician's  cutting off her son's line of sight. As they exit, the young boy can still be seen craning to look. 

There is a man who lingers and then stops to listen.  He doesn't know about classical music.... but says, "Whatever it was, it made me feel at peace."  So, for the first time in his life, this man lingers to listen to a street musician. He stays three minutes as 94 more people pass briskly by. When he leaves to help plan contingency budgets for the Department of Energy, there's another first. For the first time in his life, not quite knowing what had just happened but sensing it was special, he gives a street musician money. 

What is the "punch line" in all of this....??  

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment.  

A one time child prodigy, at 39 Joshua Bell has arrived as an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston's stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements. But on that Friday in January, Joshua Bell was just another street musician, competing for the attention of busy people on their way to work.

As always, I am not here to tell anyone what they "should" do.  This month, I am Simply pointing out that beauty is all around us and we often rush past.  An unidentified author poses the question, "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?" 

If you would like to read the entire story as published in the Washington Post, here is the link...

Here is a video of the experiment.
Or you can also view the video at this link....

Until next month,
Keep it Simple!

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