Do we really listen in this day and age? Do we really hear what is being said to us when we’re dropping off our drying cleaning, for example, or picking up dinner from a fast food restaurant? Or do we just hear the things we really want to hear? That is something we were discussing just the other day at work when yet another person came in to pay for a room rental.
We rent out the Barbara Walsh room in our library to anyone who wants to use it for an event, meeting or program and we have certain room rental policies which we explain in great detail when someone asks to rent the room. We require a deposit cheque that is separate from the room rental payment in case of damage to the room. 99.9% of the time, we give the cheque back or rip it up because there is no damage to the room, but the need for a separate cheque is our policy and we clearly state this when people rent the room. More often than not though, renters will bring only one cheque with both fees included. How are we supposed to give back the room rental deposit? This is where we figure that people listen to us, but they don’t really hear (or is it hear us but they don’t really listen?).
This got me thinking about how often we do this as a culture. Maybe our lives are far too fast-paced to really take a moment to listen, or maybe we really just don’t care as much of our lives are centered around what we want, not what others dictate we must do. And maybe we really should take more time and listen. I think we might be missing out.
The perfect example of this comes from a recent experiment by the Washington Post. They sent a young man to a very central location early one January morning , a busy commuter metro station in Washington, D. C., and asked him to play his violin to see how many people would stop and listen on their way to work and how many people would just walk on by.
For 43 minutes, he performed 6 pieces of very difficult classical music while a total of 1097 people walked by. Most of those just ignored him, a few stopped for a moment or two to listen and some even threw coins into his open violin case. The music wasn’t well known to most people so as not to draw a crowd by sheer familiarity, and he didn’t have a sign on his case asking for money in return for the music. He was probably just like any other street musician that any of us have seen in our lives and walked past. Except on this day, he wasn’t.
The violinist was world-famous Joshua Bell and he was playing a Stradivarius violin thought to be worth about $3.5 million. Two days before, he had sold out a concert in Boston where the average ticket price was $100, but no one walking through the metro station that morning realized they were being treated to a concert for free, not even the people who worked in the station.
It turns out that only one woman recognized Bell and waited until the end of a piece to say she had seen him play at the Library of Congress before and really enjoyed it. The whole hour was secretly videotaped and even though a lot of the video is played at a fast speed so that you can get a feel for how many people just walked by, it is amazing that there were some revelations about people in this secret video.
First of all, Bell himself found that he was nervous playing in front of the commuters that morning because he knew he was trying to earn their respect….they hadn’t just come to hear him play. He also found that the most tension filled moments were right after each piece ended. No applause. No recognition at all. Something that Bell is not used to, and very humbling.
It is also interesting to note that Leonard Slatkin, the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra was asked prior to the experiment if he thought that over the course of an hour with a world-class musician performing in a crowded hall would draw a crowd, he said yes. He also thought in that hour that the musician would most certainly make at least $150 in donations.
Did he draw the crowd? No, only a few people stopped and only briefly. And how much money did he make? $32 and change. (What is more interesting is that Bell was surprised by the fact that he could make $30 an hour performing in a metro station…enough to make a decent living if this was the average.)
The whole fascinating article can be read here. Take your time reading through it. There are wonderful moments and great insight into how we ignore beauty in our lives even when it is right in front of us. Also take a moment to read the article on Bell’s website regarding his first performance for President and Mrs. Obama. The revelation about the violin he uses is amazing!
Maybe we really should stop and smell the roses more often!