I don’t normally change my plans for posts for the week, but my brother e-mailed me a story yesterday I just couldn’t believe. And I couldn’t believe it on so many levels that I could probably blog about it for the next month and not limn its depths.
As a musician, I enjoy a wide range of music. I think I can appreciate just about any genre of music. Punjabi sitar to punk rock to Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma”—hey, I like it all.
Which is how I know of Joshua Bell.
Sort of the classical music version of Bono, Bell’s the pre-eminent violinist of our times, under-forty, charismatic, and a lady-killer, too. He plays the noted “Gibson ex Huberman” Stradivarius worth $3.5 million. He commands $1,000 a minute performances all over the world.
But the Washington Post wondered what might happen if Bell were asked to dress down and play as a street musician near one of the busy subway connections in DC. An experiment in sociology, so to speak. Famed musicians were asked to weigh in on what might be the outcome. Most predicted problems. The biggest worry? Crowd control.
So Bell, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, took his multi-million dollar Strad down to the Metro to play incognito for morning rush hour. He chose superb violin works unperformable by the less skilled. He played masterfully for the commuters.
The Washington Post has the whole tale (plus hidden camera video) in a fascinating story called “Pearls Before Breakfast.” Please read the whole thing.
Leonard Slatkin, the noted conductor, when asked what he thought might be the outcome, suspected that Bell would draw a large crowd and garner about $150 for his effort. The result proved far less stellar.
In truth, less than a dozen of the 1,097 people who passed by seemed to notice Bell’s presence. Fewer yet paused even momentarily to listen to the finest music in the world played by a virtuoso. Of those who did stop, a couple possessed past experience with the violin, enough to know the guy with his case left open for tips played on a level far beyond what could be expected from a street musician. One woman recognized Bell and stayed around simply because she couldn’t understand what she witnessed. She tossed in a bemused $20, making Bell’s total take for 43 minutes of stellar playing $32.17. And yes, a few folks threw in pennies.
I find it impossible to read that story and not consider that something’s profoundly wrong with us. In our hurtling from one place to another, our lives on perpetual fast -forward (at least until we hit the numbing reality of the cubicle), we’ve allowed the system we live in to rob us of time, relationship, culture, beauty, and every other mark of true humanity that simmers in our God-breathed souls. We act as if wonder itself might be purchased at Target for $9.99 on sale. We get our cheap, adulterated fix, then it’s head down and don’t get in our way.
One vignette within this cautionary tale tells of a mother whose three-year-old kept tugging her away from her objective so he could pause to listen to the guy playing the fiddle. I couldn’t help but think, and a child shall lead them.
Jesus Christ didn’t die simply to secure us a ticket to heaven. He died and rose again that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
In her book The Companions, science fiction author Sheri Tepper imagines a future in which people wear veil-like clothing in public in order to preserve their own cocoon of privacy. In many ways, I fear that Tepper’s world is already our own. What else can explain the silent shrouds we wear that cut us off from others, that speak to a child and tell him not to want to listen to the beautiful music, or to interact with the man playing it. That shroud descends over all of life, smothering it.
When I hear people telling me they prefer attending their local megachurch because it affords them some anonymity, I wonder when Jesus gave His divine imprimatur to our privacy. Yet we guard ourselves to the point of losing our souls. We numb our hearts to life going on around us. Wrapped in our cocoons, we literally fail to stop and smell the roses—or listen to Joshua Bell playing a Bach piece that once summoned tears to even the driest eyes.
Are we that beaten-down? That blind, deaf, and dumb?
It comes as no shock to me that much of Jesus’ ministry dealt with healing the blind, deaf, and dumb. We understand the physical component, but do we understand the spiritual and emotional portion of our marred humanity that compels us to walk by the world’s greatest violinist and not even pause for one moment to revel in his skill? To drop out of the ever-rushing torrent to soar on music crafted by the greats? Bach wrote “To the glory of God” on every work he penned, yet that glory wafts past us and we perceive it not.
How can it be that we have fallen so far, even those of us who claim to be Christians?