This is one of those stories that’s not new – just new to me. I came across it last night a bit randomly and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was a bit of an innocent social experiment organized by a Washington Post reporter that leaves you feeling a bit of pity for us humans (is it me, or do all “social experiments” seem to point out how pathetic we are?).
Joshua Bell is one of the world’s finest violists. He’s a young, charismatic guy, and he commands hundreds of dollars per seat when he tours the world’s great
concert halls. He plays to sell-out crowds from Boston to Berlin to Beijing. One magazine declared that his ability to play music "does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to
live." Apparently, his violin isn’t too shabby either; it’s valued at $3.5 million. I’m no expert, and honestly had never heard of the guy ‘til I came across this story, but you gotta think
Joshua Bell is pretty good with the fiddle.
So what happens when Josh Bell plays some of Bach’s greatest masterpieces for free in a completely public place? Throngs of people queue up for hours for a chance to listen to him, you guess.
What actually happens is that as Bell plays for 45 minutes, more than a thousand of people stroll by, barely noticing he’s there. After concluding some of the most intricate scores ever written, not a single persons claps or really acknowledges him at all. Think this is hyperbole? It’s not, and in fact, you can watch for yourself.
To be fair, Bell was playing in a Washington, DC, subway station at rush hour. Bell, of course, isn’t a household name or face, and apart from his obvious (or perhaps not-so-obvious) abilities, most of wouldn’t ever realize that this man playing these songs as a world-renowned musician.
But it’s a bit of an indictment on humanity, nonetheless, isn’t it? Here is this man, considered by experts to be a true gift to music. He totes his Stradavari to this Metro stop and plays for free – quite literally providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone lucky enough to be walking by. And those “lucky” people just walk by, 99% of them too consumed with making the next train to so much as turn their head to look, listen and appreciate something rare and beautiful.