Monday, April 16, 2007

"We have no time to stand and stare"

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

-- from "Leisure," by W.H. Davies

This was quoted in an article my sister recently sent me, entitled "Pearls Before Breakfast," which was of course a reference to the Biblical phrase "pearls before swine." The article was about an experiment. People at the Washington Post set up the famous violinist Joshua Bell in a DC subway station and had him perform as a street musician. Almost no one paid any attention. When interviewed later, many of the people didn't even remember hearing a violinist, or if they did they didn't think it was anything special. What they didn't know is that they would typically have to pay $100+ for a seat at one of his concerts. Joshua Bell earns $1000 a minute, and he plays on one of the best Stradivarius violins in the world, made during the golden age of Antonio Stradivari (the 1710's).

(as an aside: my sister got his autograph at a concert five years ago, and insists that SHE would have stopped to listen)

But here is what I consider to be the most interesting part of the entire article:

"There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. 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."
And again, on a similar note:
"We're busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth."

There are other questions posed in the article, such as "what is art" and "is True Art dependent on the setting," but I think the point is made clear with the little children -- they recognized the music as art, and they wanted to listen. The adults were too busy to care.

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3 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Alan

    I thought that was a fascinating article and experiment. It illustrates how we are too busy trying to keep up with our routine obligations to observe and respond to what is around us.

    It's sort of the flip-side to walking past homeless people on the sidewalk without even seeing them, much less speaking to them. (or store employees, custodians, trash collectors, etc.) In other words, if we don't have the time to break out of our routine to listen to Joshua Bell for a few minutes, how in the world are we going to be good Samaritans who meet the needs of others we encouter along the way?

  • Michelle

    "Of such (children) is the kingdom of heaven" They really are the ones who see the important things in life.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • La

    "(as an aside: my sister got his autograph at a concert five years ago, and insists that SHE would have stopped to listen)"

    Clarification: "his" means Joshua Bell, not Antonio Stradivari, which would also have been extraordinarily cool, especially if he had been willing to autograph my violin... ;-) I saw Hillary Hahn (the other gem among this generation's violinists) autograph someone's violin once, but somehow I think Mr. Stradivari's signature would improve the accoustics of the violin...

    All that being said, as sure as I am that I would have recognized the amazing music, I bet I would have been in such a hurry that I couldn't stop to listen much or at all. Wouldn't it be great if we could build time into our days so we'd be ready for moments like that?