-Internationally-acclaimed violist, born & raised in Bloomington, Indiana-
Here's what happened at 7:51 am Friday, January 12, 2007.
Morning rush hour. Washington DC, L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station. (for the entire article--& it's worth the read-click here. Pearls Before Breakfast by Gene Weingarten, Sunday April 8, 2007)
- For 43 minutes a non-descript youngish white man in jeans & a baseball cap plays 6 classical pieces on his violin.
- 1,097 people pass him by--most are on their way to work.
- The violinist begins with Bach's Chaconne, "not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history."
- Three minutes pass before something happens. 63 people have already passed by without a nod. A woman throws in a buck & scoots off.
- Six minutes into the performance, someone actually stands against a wall and listens.
- During the entire 45 minute performance by Josh Bell, one the world's most distinguished violinists, "seven people have stopped what they are doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute."
- "27 gave money, most on the run--for a total of $32 and change."
- "That leaves 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few turning to look."
- At first he was just concentrating on playing the music--not really watching what was happening around him.
- When he finally glanced around, he said, "It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah...ignoring me."
- "At a music hall, I'll get upset if someone coughs or if someone's cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up."
- "I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change." Normally his performances command $1,000 a minute. Two days before he played in Boston where "pretty good" seats went for $100 each. Two weeks later in North Bethesda, MD it was standing-room only.
- "When you play for ticket-holders, you are already VALIDATED. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I'm already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don't like me? What if they resent my presence..." (if you missed it--watch the video called "Validation" here.)
- 6 moments were particularly painful for Bell--"Awkward times."--When each piece ended--the music stops--there's no acknowledgment--no applause.
Who Stopped to Listen?
- John David Mortensen. A white guy, khakis, leather jacket, briefcase, early 30s. Project manager at the Department of Energy.
- Mortensen doesn't know classical music at all! He doesn't know about major keys or minor keys.
- He knew there was something about what he was hearing that he liked.
- According to Bell, at the moment Mortensen stopped, he was playing "Chaconne" & it was the point where it moves from a darker minor key into a major key--"There's a religious exalted feeling to it."
- "Whatever it was, it made me feel at peace," said Mortensen.
- It was the first time in his life he lingered to listen to a street musician.
- For the first time in his life, not quite knowing what had happened, but sensing it was special, he gave money to a street musician.
- Evan Parker, a three-year-old tried to stop--but his mom was too busy. She needed to get him to his teacher & rush back to work.
- "There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups."
- The one demographic that consistently wanted to stop? "Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop & watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away!"
Why Was Josh Bell Playing at the L'Enfant Metro Station Anyway?
Lessons To Be Learned?
- Dr. Richard Wiseman, the author of The Luck Factor, has studied why some people are luckier than others--and one big reason is that luckier people have a more relaxed attitude toward life, that results in noticing more around them--and that means noticing opportunities--like "free concerts" and wonderful music, job openings, and new people.
- Dr. Harold Varmos (Obama's new co-chair of his Council of Advisers on Science and Technology) is a Nobel prize-winning cancer researcher at Sloan-Kettering who says that making new scientific discoveries isn't about throwing more money at the problem.
It's about giving researchers the time away from the pressures of grant-writing--to relax & think & play. It's in that relaxed, non-rushing time that the elegant out-of-the-box discoveries have a chance to happen.
- Okay--this may seem pretty "out there", but the Josh Bell story reminded me of one of my grown-up son's favorite stories--years ago he told me that he keeps this in mind wherever he goes--and it changes his perspective whenever he meets someone who most of us would pass judgment on, or dismiss out-of-hand.
This is taken from Naomi Remen's best-seller "My Grandfather's Blessing". My guess is that it's an Hasidic story.
"The story he told me is very old and dates from the time of the prophet Isaiah. It is the legend of the Lamed-Vovniks. In this story, God tells us that He will allow the world to continue as long as at any given time there is a minimum of thirty-six good people in the human race. People who are capable of responding to the suffering that is part of the human condition. These thirty-six are are called the Lamed-Vovniks. If at any time, there are fewer than thirty-six such people alive, the world will come to an end.
"Do you know who these people are, Grandpa?" I asked, certain that he would say "Yes." But he shook his head. "No, Neshume-le," he told me. "Only God knows who the Lamed-Vovniks are. Even the Lamed-Vovniks themselves do not know for sure the role they have in the continuation of the world, and no one else knows it either. They respond to suffering, not in order to save the world but simply because the suffering of others touches them and matters to them."
It turned out that Lamed-Vovniks could be tailors or college professors, millionaires or paupers, powerful leaders or powerless victims. These things were not important. What mattered was only their capacity to feel the collective suffering of the human race and respond to the suffering around them. "And because no one knows who they are, Neshume-le, anyone you meet might be one of the thirty-six for whom God preserves the world," my grandfather said. "It is important to treat everyone as if this might be so."