Sunday, September 28, 2014

Unblinker your view

In an experiment initiated by a Washington Post columnist, Joshua Bell donned a baseball cap and jeans during the morning rush hour of 27th January 2007 and played as an incognito busker at a Metro subway station in Washington, D.C. Now this is a rather old story which you may have come across already, but I want to share some thoughts I picked up. While he played, 1 097 people walked past, but only 7 people stopped to listen to him for a minute or more, while only 1 person recognized him. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written and this with a violin worth more than $3 million. His almost 45-minute performance raised $32.17 from 27 passersby (excluding $20 from the passerby who recognized him). Three days before this, he had earned incomparably more playing the same repertoire at a sold out concert in Boston with an average cost per seat of $100.  Joshua Bell is one of the most acclaimed classical musicians of today. He is an American Grammy Award -winning violinist and conductor and was named an Indiana Living Legend receiving the Indiana Governor's Arts Award. He also received the Avery Fisher Prize, given once every few years to classical instrumentalists for outstanding achievement.

Blinkered society?
In a previous post entitled Hidden treasures walking past, I spoke about how every day we walk past hidden treasures or value that we seldom recognize because we do not make small effort to find it. The experiment above begs many questions among which are; What matters more, experience or the value inherent in the experience? Are we a heavily contextual society that only defines excellence, beauty and value by the environment and atmosphere in which we find it? Oh, but of course, it was the wrong setting, wrong audience, timing and performance outfit. It would seem to me that we have blinkers on, which make us perceive, view, see, and place value selectively. I do appreciate that people are more willing to pay for an experience, and Joshua himself alludes to the fact that performing in a noisy subway proved more difficult, as he would perform optimally when there is pin drop silence. Does excellence, perfection and beauty lose value because of context? The point was made, we do not perceive beauty or excellence for what it is, but for how we perceive it and what we have been told and made to believe it is. Under normal circumstances, headlines would have put it out there and billed the performance as a rare must see act, thereby creating hype and a sense of value, but well, no one said it was Joshua Bell performing, did they? A priceless performance for free, and it went unnoticed. What a thought provoking experiment this was. I love this experiment and what it sought to bring out in human behavior. For me, the lesson is to always 'stop and smell the coffee' as it were, without downing the cup quicker than the sugar settles. This is my challenge to you, as much as it was back then, to avoid missing the subtle excellence, beauty and value around you because it is not disguised in the packaging you expect. I believe that value within matters more than the external packaging it comes in. After all some of us rip off the gift wrapping from gifts we receive in the rush to see the gift contained therein.

Removing blinkers
A blinkered view is one where there is narrow, limited and partial awareness or vision. It is important to keep your eyes and ears open to what can be rather than what seems to be. Time is a rare commodity in our day and age, but what is life without embracing the beauty and value around us, while caught up in the rat race? Here is a few points to avoid missing excellence around you.
  1. Always keep time and space for something new to come up each day. It will make you see what others do not see.
  2. Avoid the familiarity syndrome where everything seems like dejavu, and you have been there, done that, seen or heard it before.
  3. It is not out of fashion to stop and appreciate in some way that act on the street seeking their breakthrough, they are making an honest living.
  4. Try not to have your whole life filled with work and business activities. Create free time for your mind to break out of the rut.
  5. Have a child like perspective which seeks to discover and learn always.
Second chances...
With the experimental legacy of being the subway performer who received no recognition lingering, Joshua Bell is now focusing on turning that legacy around. He is planning another public performance in the Main Hall at Washington's Union Station on the 30th of September 2014, in aid of National Young Arts Foundation, accompanied by nine students he mentored and with the goal of promoting music education. This will also coincide with the debut of his new album. I believe it will be a more memorable performance with the attention it deserves and the desired legacy.

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