Wednesday, November 18, 2009

that stranger thing

On a freezing February morning during the rush of commuting, a guy pulls out his violin and starts to play.  Have you seen him?  If you're lucky enough to take public transport, of course you have.  Did you notice him?  Did you evaluate his talent with any kind of meaningful criteria?  Did you applaud his efforts on that cold day?  Or did you walk on by with the rest of the world?

The Washington Post did this little inquiry in 2007 and they placed the musician (who happened to look like just a guy but who was actually one of the most famous musicians in the world) with a violin (that happened to look like any violin but was actually worth 3.5 million) playing one of Bach's most intricate pieces of music (but which may have been drowned by the sound of people's hurrying) and he collected exactly 32 dollars over the course of one hour.  6 people stopped to listen for a few moments.  The irony is that a week before, this same guy (maybe in different clothes) played for a sold-out crowd in Boston, each of whom paid $100 for the chance to hear him.

So what does it all mean?

Obviously, we need to pay a little closer attention to the world around us.  But not just so that we can spot the celebrities and get the free $100 concert.  So that we actually give one another the small gift of noticing.  Hey, you too?  You're alive here with me, cold, shivering, making beautiful music, moving toward another day?  Nice.
Why do we find it so remarkable that a famous musician can stand in the subway unnoticed, while fine, non-famous musicians do it all the time?  Why is it a travesty that no one noticed the $3.5 million dollar violin, and not a travesty that you can insure that violin but not a person who's had high blood pressure?  Shouldn't we all aim to pay more attention to one another, regardless of the price we could command at the box office?

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