This is the title of an email I received, today, which contained a link to this article, about an experiment The Washington Post performed in a Metro station.
They had Joshua Bell, world famous virtuoso violinist, play his several-million-dollar 1713 Stradivarius violin in street clothes at L’Enfant Plaza, a Metro stop in Washington, DC. They wanted to see what would happen.
I really recommend you read the article, but I’ll give the ending away. Nothing happened. A few people stopped or glanced in his direction. But, around 98% of the people that passed by this amazing musician, playing some of the most beautiful music ever written on one of the most rare and coveted instruments ever made, didn’t even acknowledge his presence. One-thousand seventy (1,070) people simply passed him by. One-thousand seventy. In less than an hour.
Because they were too busy. Or didn’t notice him at all.
And, let me just add, Joshua Bell is a good looking man. Put a violin in his hands and I melt like an ice cube under a blowtorch.
The point is, even in street clothes with a violin case full of change, he didn’t look or sound like a bum asking for handouts. The problem is, few people listened. And even fewer people looked. The ones that did seemed to have some experience with music – only one woman recognized him, but others had played the violin or at least recognized that this guy was good.
My post isn’t about why people didn’t stop to listen to a man that many of them couldn’t afford to see in concert. The article covers that pretty well. There was one part that was particularly interesting to me, as a teacher, and that’s the part pointed out to me in the email.
“A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She’s got his hand.
“”There was a musician,” Parker says, “and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.”
“So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan’s and Bell’s, cutting off her son’s line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look.
“There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell… 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.”
Kids love art. Music, dance, painting, drawing, poetry, drama, storytelling… they eat up, they let it soak in, and they often create it with the kind of fearless abandon most adults can’t even fathom.
They also learn from it. They learn to feel, to think, and to express themselves through various artforms, oftentimes better than with “traditional” methods.
As teachers, parents, and adults in general, let’s not scoot our children away from some of the most empowering, enriching, and enjoyable experiences of their lives. Let’s not wait for these experiences to come to them, either – take them to museums, concerts, plays, poetry readings, and dance performances. Give them paints and instruments and let them explore expression through the arts.
Let’s create a group of people who would find time to stop to acknowledge the presence of such beauty in such an unlikely setting. The arts speak to all people, adults have just forgotten how to listen.
Don’t teach your kids to tune it out.