I’ve seen this story floating around the web for a few years and, recently, I’ve seen it posted – in its entirety – as a status update on Facebook.
Here’s the story I’m talking about: Violinist Joshua Bell playing incognito in a subway station.
If you don’t want to read the whole thing (it’s not that long), I’ll summarize it here for you: Famed musician Joshua Bell, who’s concert seats sell for $100, played a famous and difficult piece on his violin in a subway station. He played for free, of course. Passersby tossed coins into his violin case. A few people stopped to listen, but most people just went about their business. One young child was enamored with the performance, but his terrible, terrible mommy whisked him away to catch their train. The morals of the story were summed up thusly:
[I]n 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?
I guess the take-away lesson here is that we’re supposed to think, “Damn, I need to slow down and cherish stuff like music, even if I’m busy.”
But…um…I don’t care if Patrick Stewart is reciting Shakespeare, if I’m in a metro station, I got places to go and appointments to keep. My boss isn’t gonna care if I missed my train because I just HAD to listen to a street performer.
Obviously, if someone asked me if I’d rather pay $100 or nothing to listen to Bell play his set, I’d choose the latter. But maybe not. I mean, the subway station probably had bad acoustics, no seating, and lots of errant noises drowning out the virtuoso. Visiting a concert hall, on the other hand, is an experience in and of itself – regardless of who’s playing. I’ll also be guaranteed a good seat, excellent acoustics, and I won’t be in anyone’s way. I also would have set the time aside for such a concert, as opposed to being at a station, where I am almost certainly on my way to an appointment (why else would I be there?).
And here’s another thing: When I’ve been at bus, train, and subway stations, it behooves me to shut out most of the din around me. True, the street performer over in the corner over there mightbe a famed instrumentalist plucking out an amazing piece of art. But, statistically speaking, it’s probably just a so-so musician banging out an annoying tune for money. More often than not, street musicians have been an annoyance to me, and, if I was wealthier, I might be inclined to offer them fifty bucks to pack up and leave.
And besides the musicians, there’s also the noise of the other people, the bombardment of advertisements, and the frustration of trying to make heads-or-tails out of the schedules and maps. Truly, I’m better off blocking out most of the crap around me, even if it means discounting a world-class performance. I guess that’s just the collateral damage. I’d rather block out 100 things, knowing full well 99 of them are obnoxious attention-grabbers - even though I might miss out on that one piece of beauty – than to let in everything and try to figure out if any of it is worth anything. ‘Cause, especially at a subway station, I can almost guarantee it’s not.
Now, if I was three years old, and I didn’t care about anything and my mom was taking care of things like buying the ticket and checking the schedules, then, sure, I’d stop and listen.