Noticing Beauty – Listening Well
t happened in Washington D.C. but don’t be fooled, it could have happened anywhere. Beautiful music was played and no one listened. A young man walked into the Metro station, long-sleeved t-shirt, Washington Nationals baseball cap. He pulled a violin out of his case and began to play. He started with Bach’s “Chaconne” then moved to Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” He played six pieces total — ending with a reprise of “Chaconne” one of the greatest classical pieces of all time. He played exactly 43 minutes.
In 43 minutes exactly 1097 people passed by the musician with his violin. It took 3 minutes and 63 people before someone actually looked at the violinist. He didn’t stop to listen, but he did look. 30 seconds later, someone dropped a buck in the open violin case. It took 6 minutes before someone actually stopped, stood against the wall and listened. In 43 minutes, only 7 people stopped for at least a minute. 27 people gave money totaling $32 and change.
Do the math, 1,070 people hurried by without listening, oblivious that three feet away from them Joshua Bell — one of the world’s greatest violinists — was playing some of the most beautiful classical music on a 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius.
Three days earlier, Bell had filled Boston’s Symphony Hall where average seats went for $100. Two weeks later he was playing To a standing-room-only audience at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda. But on a cold January morning at the Metro Station he was making $32 and change while competing with the busy schedules of people on their way to work.
This story could lead to the pondering of many questions, like:
- 1. If Joshua Bell plays music at the Metro, but nobody listens, is it still art?
- 2. Does beauty need to be framed and experienced in a certain context to be recognized for what it is?
- 3. Does politics (Washington D.C.) eliminate one’s appreciation for art? or
- 4. Most importantly could I make $40 an hour at the Metro playing my great Uncle Oscar’s fiddle?
But here is the question that captivates my mind from this story, “How much do we miss in life because we do not take the time to listen?” Time after time I will talk to people who are struggling in a relationship, and they haven’t taken the time to listen. Lynn and I stood for 10 minutes on a bridge the other day, listening to the sound of water flowing over rocks. It was like talking a 60 minute nap — so soothing. How often do we say that we really want to hear the voice of God, but we just don’t have time to listen? If there is any group of people in the world who should be known for their listening ears, it is those who call themselves followers of Jesus. After all, he was known as “The Word.” But I do not think that “great listeners” would come to the mind of most people if you asked them what they thought of Christians.
One interesting thing: If you watch the video of Joshua’s performance at the Metro, you may notice a 3 year old boy being tugged along by his mother. The boy wanted to stop to listen to the music. The action was repeated by several other child-mother combinations. I wonder if that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Take some time and be a kid this week. Listen for the beauty around you. Listen for the voice of God.
By the way if you would like to listen to Joshua’s Metro concert, simply click Joshua.
Once again it seems that you’ve delivered a remarkably relevant message to me. I’ve been embroiled in a situation where I’ve been trying to listen to the voice of God. Despite all of that, it still seems hard sometimes for me to just stop and listen.
Thanks for the reminder.
This is where the issue of context and relevance comes in. The human brain is very good at tuning out things it deems irrelevant. Like it or not, Joshua Bell in the subway is nothing but an overqualified busker.
Jamin, I agree context and relevance make a difference and the brain gets very good at tuning out things it deems irrelevant. I simply wonder if we have made some mistakes at what we deem irrelevant. Thanks for the thoughts!
Thankfully, someone* clued me in to your blog. And he was right. Very relevant. Funny that I just sought answers from someone I trusted who essentially told me to stop listening – “nothing to hear, move along, keep reading your bible and you’ll come to the same conclusions I have”.
Wish it were as easy as just stopping – or maybe it is.
*someone also has passed on your messages re: churches in my area. Appreciated the time and effort. Thank you.
My pleasure Stephanie. Keep listening. He is still speaking.
Dear Pastor Dan,
I’m a violinist on the worship team on the 9:15 service, and we’ve spoken casually a few times, but I’d like to introduce myself “formally” here in a blog comment. Though Joshua Bell may not be my favorite violinist (though many of my favorites are dead), I love this story, and was wondering when I’d hear it in a sermon. I was delighted to hear it this morning, in an incredibly powerful message.
In a slightly less relevant side note, Bach’s Chaccone is one of my favorite pieces written for the solo violin.
I’m going to try and answer your questions in an extremely oversimplified and possibly opinionated fashion:
1. If Joshua Bell plays music at the Metro, but nobody listens, is it still art?
YES. I believe you touched on this in the message.
2. Does beauty need to be framed and experienced in a certain context to be recognized for what it is?
Depends on who needs to recognize it. In most cases yes.
3. Does politics (Washington D.C.) eliminate one’s appreciation for art?
4. Most importantly could I make $40 an hour at the Metro playing my great Uncle Oscar’s fiddle?
Ummmm… based on my statistical observation, no. But who’s to stop you from trying?
Wow. This is such an amazing appeal for us to slow down and simply listen. I know personally, I am so terrible for saying, “I don’t know what God is saying. I can’t hear Him.” But rare are the times when I actually sit down to listen and reflect. Thank you.
By the way, I live and work in DC. There are many musicians at different Metro stations. Sometimes I’ll stop and listen for a quick second but not enough to take it in too much because usually I’m tired and I’m trying to get home or to church. I hope I wasn’t one of the people who passed this gentleman by :).
Hey Ian, first of all thank you for playing. When you and Joe play the violin in our worship gatherings — I love it! And thanks for some good answers. And the encouragine words on the talk :)
A. Burton. I just came from D.C. there the last few days for some meetings… hung out with John Jenkins from First Baptist Glenarden. Great preacher.