Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stop and Hear the Music

June, 2007

(Blogger Note: There has been renewed interest in this story recently with frequent postings about it on Facebook.  This was written in early June, 2007 and was published in the "LAMLight" (the physician newsletter of The Lynchburg Academy of Medicine ) that same month.  To put this in historical perspective, I wrote this about one month after the mass murder at Virginia Tech and about two weeks before my own emergency open heart surgery.)

Stop and Hear the Music

            “The Washington Post” commissioned a very interesting experiment which they conducted in January of this year.  The newspaper hired Joshua Bell, a world renowned violinist to perform unannounced and incognito at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station at rush hour.  Mr. Bell showed up at 7:51 A.M. without fan fair in jeans and a t-shirt, took out his $3.5 million dollar 1713 Stradivari violin and began a 45 minute virtuoso performance of extremely technically difficult music.  The selections included Bach’s “Chaconne”, a 14 minute musical progression repeated in dozens of variations, considered to be one of the most difficult violin pieces to master.  The entire 45 minute experiment was recorded by a hidden camera.  Almost 1100 people passed Mr. Bell by, heads down, intent on catching their train.  Two people stopped to listen.  One, a young lady, recognized Mr. Bell.  She had just paid $150 to see his performance in Boston.  One man noticed the performance and checked his cell phone, realizing that he had three minutes to spare.  He stopped and listened for those three minutes.  Various people put spare change in Mr. Bell’s open Stradivari case.  He collected almost $40 (including $20 from the person who recognized him). 

            The purpose of this experiment was to see if everyday people would recognize artistic brilliance out of context.  The conclusion from this event was no, they don’t.  Mr. Bell, who apparently is occasionally criticized for his showmanship onstage, stated: “It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah….ignoring me.”    I would disagree with their conclusions of this experiment.  I think people would recognize brilliance, and maybe even appreciate the wonders and mystery of life itself, if only they took the time to do so!

One woman is seen on the tape tugging her small son through the station.  The child obviously wanted to stop, but they did not stop.  Later, the Mom was quoted: “There was a musician and my son was intrigued.  He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.  I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement.”  The man who stopped for three minutes of Bach’s “Chaconne” was quoted thus: “Whatever it was, it made me feel at peace.”  Those two quotes sum up for me the true conclusions of this disturbing experiment.

The pace of life in 21st Century America is such that we don’t allow ourselves time to appreciate the finer things, the most important things: companionship, relationships, our feelings, the arts, nature.  We are so driven by schedules, productivity, consumption and general “busy-ness” that we let the truly mystical, magical and yes, peaceful experiences pass us by.

This message became even more clear on April 16 when we were all bludgeoned with the horrible news accounts from Blacksburg.  The communal sense of loss and shared grief is almost beyond comprehension.  In the midst of all of this I couldn’t help but be touched by the one father who related to Wolf Blitzer that his family had driven to Blacksburg from Northern Virginia the Saturday before the shootings to see their daughter perform in an international dance festival.  Those two days with their daughter and the pride and love that they showed her by being there for those performances took on such huge importance when she became one of the 33 fatalities on Monday.  We just don’t know what’s around the next corner.

It’s time to drop everything and be there for our children when they need us.  It’s time to make time for our spouses, our extended families and friends.  It’s time take that extra minute with a patient to listen to their frustrations and calm their fears.  It’s time to stop and hear the music.

(Note: The entire account of this event was published in the “The Washington Post Magazine” on Sunday April 8, 2007.  The article, written by Gene Weingarten, is available on at:

No comments:

Post a Comment