A Real Story
By Paulo Coelho
For The Bali Times
On a cold January morning, a man placed himself at the entrance of a subway station in Washington and began to play the violin. For 45 minutes passersby listened to six compositions of J.S. Bach. As it was rush hour – it is estimated that thousands of people pass there at this time of day – most of them were on their way to work.
For the first three minutes, an elderly man noticed that someone was playing music. He slowed his pace, watched for a moment and went on.
Soon after, the violinist was given his first money – a one-dollar bill – thrown by a woman who did not even stop to listen what he was playing. A little later, a man leaned on a column, where he stayed for about five minutes, then looked at his watch and went towards the train tracks.
The first human being who really paid attention to what was happening there was a 3-year-old boy. His mother was in a hurry, but the boy insisted on listening a little longer. Nothing could be done; the little one was dragged out of there, although he kept turning his head back. The same thing happened with other children: all the parents, with no exception, told their children to keep walking after about three minutes of compulsory patience.
During the 45 minutes the violinist played there, he collected 32 dollars and had six spectators. As he finished there was no applause; no one encouraged him to continue. A woman said she had seen him the day before (she was really the only one who stopped to see him play) and that she had great admiration for his work.
The violinist’s name is Joshua Bell and this experience was videotaped by The Washington Post. (If you wish to see the videos and are reading this column via the internet, click on the link at the end of the column). Two days before the experience at the subway, Bell had played to a crowded theatre in Boston, with minimum-price entrances of US$100. There, as well as at the subway station, he played a Stradivarius, a violin estimated to cost $3.5 million. The pieces he played are considered to be Bach’s most difficult compositions for this instrument. Questioned by journalists how he felt about the subway experience, Bell did not hide his disappointment: people where unable to recognize beauty and value a piece of art, unless within parameters considered normal.
The Post’s idea was this: conduct a sociological experiment about humans’ behaviour. People, as they go past something absolutely sublime, having other priorities at the moment, do not pay any attention to it. As in this case, going to work or the inability to notice what is going on around him or her, or still thinking that “subway musicians are all frustrated artists who are not able to accomplish a minimum limit of talent.”
Would I have stopped to listen to Joshua Bell? I do not know. Just like everybody else, I have been conditioned to the rites of art, like theatre, high prices, and things like that. But this sounded like an alert: if we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the world’s best violinists, how many other beautiful things are we missing in this life?
Here is the link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html
© Translated by James Mulholland