Inspirational story of the day

Just thought I would share this with you guys:

“A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people.

The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

Because chances to witness talent are so widely available in our society, a lot of what we appreciate now comes through social conformity and knowledge of its prestige. Unfortunately, most people need to be told what to like. If it had been a recognizable pop artist in the subway, a large percentage of people would’ve missed work just to experience the smallest brush with fame, even if the artist didn’t play a note. I don’t want to get on a “technology and globalization has hurt more than it’s helped” rant, but it does mean that everything is now a little less special than it was before. Like drug tolerance, we increasingly need more stimulation as the availability of media and information catches up with our entertainment threshold.

I’ve played in a few bands over the years and one band had some modest local success. Pittsburgh’s music scene is nearly non-existant compared to the entertainment capitals of the US such as NYC and LA, but there’s still a closely-knit pool of fantastic musicians that are serious about their art and deserve some recognition. I was always saddened by the thinking behind booking live music in small venues here. For nights without a major headlining band, they would book at least 3, sometimes as many as 10, local bands on the bill. This was because the turnout of each band’s “fanbase” was so dismal, more bands would have to be booked just for the promoter to break even. Usually each band would be required to sell tickets. 100 tickets may not seem that hard to sell, but once someone has already seen you live, they can’t be bothered to come again. You’d end up paying the venue because you couldn’t sell enough tickets, but in the eyes of most bands, it’s worth it just for the small chance of getting some exposure or meeting an A&R rep. We soon learned that it wasn’t and stopped doing “pay to play” shows. One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a musician was playing in front of 10,000 people singing along to our music. But that only happened because we were the opening act for a few shows with a “famous” band, and their fans figure that if their favorite band chose us to be their opening act, they should like us too. It’s all about conformity.

But artists of all kinds must accept that this is the way things are. To deny it would do one’s career a disservice. I’ve never liked the accusation of “selling out” because it’s a moot point in my opinion. If an artist’s heart is in an artform too complex or obscure for a mass population to appreciate, they will always return to it after the money has been made and bills have been paid. Otherwise, they were probably never “unsold” to begin with. Perhaps a better term is dayjob.

FYI, this violin thing happened in 2007.