How well do we value artists?

Leche Cercel performs in Corona Station

In 2004, I co-wrote, with Steve Rosenberg, the short film Corona Station, which aired on Bravo! TV and was screened in the Vancouver International Film Festival.

The movie features two violinists—a classical and Roma player, respectively—vying against each other to attract the attention of a woman in an Edmonton subway station.

Click here to find out more about Corona Station.

Here’s a related story to ponder, which someone forwarded to me from the Internet:

A Violinist in the Metro

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, at rush hour, thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed the musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, then hurried to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw him the money. Without stopping, she continued to walk. A few minutes later, a man leaned against the wall to listen to the music, looked at his watch, and started to walk again. Clearly, he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a three-year-old boy. His mother, hurrying, tugged him along, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. The mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head repeatedly to see the man playing music. Several other children repeated these actions. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes that the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for awhile. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed. No one applauded.

No one knew but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days before performing in the subway, Bell had sold out at a theater in Boston where the seat price averaged $100.

This is a true story. The Washington Post arranged to have Joshua Bell play incognito in the subway station as part of a social experiment about people’s perceptions, tastes, and priorities. Do we perceive beauty in an everyday environment at an inconvenient time? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

Consider this: If we do not take a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

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