Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let's Have Time to Stand and Stare......

A Violinist in the Metro

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 thousand of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed the 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 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 best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

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

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an 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?

The above email was sent to me by my friend, Elissa Chan. Wow! How I wish Joshua Bell had done some street busking in Singapore! I often have the habit of listening to some musicians playing on the five foot way or by some of their favourite spots in town. Some of them are blind eg. Raymond, the gentleman who sings very well. Give him any number and he will be able to sing you the song! Quite a versatile singer, because he can also sing in a few languages.! One of them, Kelvin Tan Wei Lian, a young Chinese man who is also blind, is now a star in his own right, after having won in a singing competition. Then you also have a Mr. Chong who plays the keyboard. It is amazing to watch him play and to wonder how he can strike the keys so accurately!

Then there is also the erhu player, Mr. Liew. He taught himself the instrument. When he first started, I told him in private that he was playing a little out of tune. Now he has improved tremendously, and is drawing a little crowd when he plays in Chinatown. Maybe in Chinatown, there are quite a number of retirees. I notice that when he plays at Orchard Road, very few people bother to stop by to listen, except to throw some money into his collection box. Maybe the crowd in Orchard prefers Western music.

This is why whenever I have an appointment at Orchard Road or Chinatown, I will always try to be early so that should anything of interest catch my attention, I would be able to stop by to listen and to discover. Sometimes during festivals, there are many ourdoor stage performances, and I enjoy watching them for they are often quite good, and best of all, FOC - free of charge! Now my readers can understand why my eldest sister calls me a "kaypo" or busybody! I will always tell my sister that as a writer I have to be a "kaypo" or how else do I get my material for writing?

Gan Chau

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