What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
– from “Leisure,” by W.H. Davies
Today’s Music Monday is something special. It’s my 50th post at I Can’t Brain and it’s also my 41st birthday.
On November 13, 2011, I started this blog. I had no idea what I really wanted to do with it (a common theme among bloggers, I noticed) and didn’t publish my second post until almost a month later on December 6th.
Roughly three months later, I have a vague direction for the blog and a much more focused direction for my life.
And all it took was 50 blog posts.
I’ve learned a lot in the short time I’ve been blogging, chief of which (don’t scoff if this sounds conceited) is that I received validation on my skills as a writer – something I didn’t even know I needed.
In this short time, I’ve guest posted on two blogs (because the blog owners asked me to) and I received a regular writing gig for a news blog.
I’ve gained 71 followers to my blog and average 30 views a day.
Not bad for just starting out, I’d say.
I hope so much more will happen for me by the time I reach 100 posts. I say “hope” because as I go along – blogging, researching and writing a novel – I find that I am easily distracted. Distracted by Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog linkups and watching the view count on my blog.
Well it’s time to put an end to all the distractions. It’s time to focus and enjoy what is around me.
My wife pointed out an article to me (she’s very good at subtly letting me know when I’ve become derailed) that appeared in The Washington Post a few years ago. The article, called “Pearls Before Breakfast,” won a Pulitzer and you’ll see why.
Gene Weingarten, a Washington Post Staff Writer, pitched an idea to violinist Joshua Bell. The idea was for Bell to dress in street clothes, play his violin at a crowded, rush-hour subway stop in Washington DC and see what happened. Bell readily agreed.
You may already know what happened. This story is from 2007. Before I continue, you must get an idea of the caliber of Bell’s playing. Here’s a video of Bell playing J.S. Bach’s “Chaconne” from Partita No.2 in D Minor. It’s not the full 14 minutes, but it’s enough to see what he played that day at L’Enfant Plaza.
I know, right!?! The guy is amazing!
This is from the Washington Post article:
Bell decided to begin with “Chaconne” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Bell calls it “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect. Plus, it was written for a solo violin, so I won’t be cheating with some half-assed version.”
Bell didn’t say it, but Bach’s “Chaconne” is also considered one of the most difficult violin pieces to master. Many try; few succeed. It’s exhaustingly long — 14 minutes — and consists entirely of a single, succinct musical progression repeated in dozens of variations to create a dauntingly complex architecture of sound. Composed around 1720, on the eve of the European Enlightenment, it is said to be a celebration of the breadth of human possibility.
If Bell’s encomium to “Chaconne” seems overly effusive, consider this from the 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”
Bell played for about 45 minutes. He started with the “Chaconne” and ended with the “Chaconne.” He played a total of six songs on a violin made by the famous Antonio Stradivari in 1713.
The violin is valued at approximately 3.5 million dollars.
In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run — for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.
Yeah, crazy, huh?
One man recognized that what he was hearing was something very special and listened for quite some time. One woman actually recognized Bell.
Other than that, he was essentially ignored.
Except by children.
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.
It’s sad to me what happened with this experiment. I can be completely honest in saying that when I lived in Boston and took the subway to work everyday, I would throw a couple of dollars to any performers who happened to be there. I would also listen for a few minutes each time. Sometimes, I would be surprised and thoroughly entertained. I still remember a young kid who played a beautiful version of The Beatles “Norwegian Wood” on guitar. It sits with me still because he made that guitar sound like an entire band. It was impressive.
Little gems of beauty can be found everywhere if you stop to look.
I’m going to take a lesson from those kids who heard Joshua Bell play at L’Enfant Plaza in 2007. Life is too short not to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us all.
I just couldn't stay away!