Sam Horn - Intrigue

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Most Fascinating Article I've Ever Read . . . Really!

Please just give Gene Weingarten this year’s Pulitzer for journalism and be done with it.

And please take ten minutes to read his thought-provoking article Pearls Before Breakfast from the 4/8/07 Washington Post Magazine.

Gene wondered, “What would happen if you took a renowned violinist, (whose latest album has been called “unfailingly exquisite, a musical summit that will make your heart thump and weep at the same time”) and positioned him inside a D.C Metro Stop on a workday during the morning commute?

What if you asked him to play six compositions, each considered “masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls?”

What if you took this experiment one step further and asked him to play these musical works of art on a rare, multimillion dollar Stradivarius?

Would anyone notice? Would any of the hundreds of people streaming by take a minute to listen to a free concert by “one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made?”

As Weingarten posited, “Would beauty transcend in a banal setting at an inconvenient time?”

In the 45 minutes that Joshua Bell played, (yes, the Joshua Bell who played the soundtrack of the movie The Red Violin and who packs them in at concert halls around the globe), only 7 (!) people paused long enough to acknowledge his performance.

The other 1070 people? They all rushed by, oblivious, not even noticing or caring about the miracle in their midst.

Weingarten’s point? There are several. One of which is to quote W.H. Davies who said, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stop and stare.” At what cost are we so busy, so driven, that we have lost the ability to see, hear and be grateful for beauty?

Another intriguing insight, “There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the few people who stayed to watch Bell from the vast majority who hurried past, unheeding. Whites, blacks, Asians, men and women were all represented. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Kudos to Gene Weingarten for his absolutely brilliant writing and for this thought-provoking social experiment. Please take the time to read his article (and view a video clip of Joshua Bell’s “D.C. Metro Concert”) at

Then, get back in touch and let me know, "Would you have stopped to listen to Bell if you had been rushing to work?" Why or why not? What does it say about our society that people were lined up at the lottery machine, punching in their numbers and hoping for a payday, but wouldn't even turn around to note this phenomenon?

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At 3:53 PM , Blogger comments said...

Thank you for pointing about this article. An excellent piece.

Would I stop? I'd like to think so, but I probably wouldn't.

Indeed, just last week there was what I thought was a good violinist playing in the Toronto subway.

I looked over briefly...but walked on.

Next time, I'll stop. The article made me think about the importance of mindfulness.

At 8:11 PM , Blogger Marilynn Mobley said...

Excellent article, Sam. And a great question, to boot.

I'd like to say I would stop and listen but deep down I know I probably wouldn't. It has nothing to do with a lack of appreciation for Bell's remarkable talent. It has everything to do with the relevance of the music. In other words, time and place, to my way of thinking, are important conditions of relevance.

Many of us think of music, especially classical violin music, as something that is to be enjoyed, (even requiring concentration), rather than "background music," which is essentially what this experiment relegated Bell to. In an environment created for the very purpose of moving people along quickly, it seems incongruent to stop and listen to a lone musician, regardless of his skill.

We've become a nation of podheads, constantly hearing music, but rarely ever really listening. I would have been shocked had the results been different, quite frankly.

Isn't it fascinating - and wonderful - that children want to stop and listen BECAUSE of the incongruence, while adults FAILED to stop for exactly the same reason!

At 9:01 AM , Blogger Doris Jeanette said...

Cool Sam,

I was searching for a catchy title to go with my new pod cast idea, Ask Drjeanette when I bumped into you and your great blog post. Annie Jennings gave me this brilliant idea yesterday at one of her tele seminars.

I am definitely one who stops and listens to any real live person anywhere. If they are giving me music I cherish every note--unless it is disharmonious.

Here in Philadelphia I have taken repeated note of how many people pass by a double blossom, bright pink, cherry tree in full bloom. WOW! Do they POP!

I am standing there in rapture soaking up the healthy energy, while everyone else with their heads two feet in front of their body rush by. Sometimes I smile at them and ask them to appreciate my cherry tree. And sometimes they do.

Well to end this post I have to find your book, POP! the Art and Science of Being One of a Kind and start using it again to help me. I have not seen your book since I did my own taxes this year. Could I have filed it away with the bills?

What 2-3 words can I use to POP! out at people?

Those of us who are like children and have healthy flowing energy are not always on track!! We do get lost in the music, colors and love of life. Not a bad place to live.


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