In April of 2007, Gene Weingarten wrote a piece for the Washington Post that would go on to win him a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. It told of an experiment of sorts. Joshua Bell, a world famous violinist, played his violin in a DC Metro station for 43 minutes to see what would happen. Sadly and not surprisingly, not much happened. People were too busy to stop and listen and very few people recognized the greatness in their midst. When I originally read the story I was struck by the following quote:
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.
I remember wondering if I would have stopped to listen. I probably wouldn’t have. Partially because I’m pretty ignorant about music and I think almost tone-deaf. Partially because too often I’m in a hurry or thinking of the next thing I have to do or where I have to be. I wondered if I would let my kids stop to listen. I’m not sure if I would have. I’d like to think I would, but the reality is I probably would have hurried them along. I think about this story often, even now, six years later. Usually it’s when one of the kids wants to stop and look or listen and I find myself hurrying them along. Most of the time, it’s a reminder to slow down.
Obviously, other people were also challenged and touched by the story and by the same quote in particular. Kathy Stinson has written a new book about what it might have been like for one boy who heard the music that day and wanted to stop and just listen. I loved the illustrations by Dusan Petricic. One page in particular is genius as he uses color to show all the things that Dylan sees that his Mom is missing. I also love the way that he uses colors and patterns to show the sounds that Dylan is hearing. It was interesting to discuss the real story with my kids after reading this version. I enjoyed this book but I think it’s real value is in pointing those who haven’t heard the real story before to the story by Weingarten, which is truly incredible.
“Pearls Before Breakfast”– Weingarten’s original story
A video of Joshua Bell in the subway station: