A Violinist in the Metro

A Violinist in the Metro is the subject of a viral email that I received just this week. The story it tells, of renowned concert violinist playing in a Washington D.C. subway during rush hour who goes unrecognized and unappreciated, is true. The violinist was Joshua Bell and it was widely reported, by the Washington Post and NPR among others…two years ago. The event took place on on January 12, 2007 and I don’t know why this email is circulating now but it bears re-telling for it gives rise to questions that are worth considering.

The email concludes with this question:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments …. how many other things are we missing?

It’s a good question, but I would also have to ask whether the adults, who probably had no arts education or even exposure to the arts, would have had the ability to discern quality and beauty even if they did have the time to stop and listen. Some might argue that art has the power to touch all, and I might agree, but I also think that those who grew up in recent times may have had the innate ability with which we are born sucked out of them by adulthood. (The children in this story wanted to stop and listen, but the grownups pulled them away.)

It reminds me of a story I read some time ago about people are born with the ability to taste color or see musical notes as colors and shapes but the ability fades away from disuse, lack of encouragement, lack of adult understanding… It’s called synesthesia (“a rare neurological condition in which two or more of the senses entwine”) and while I am not a scientist, I do believe that we are born with way more abilities and talents than we ever imagine, let alone nurture.

What do you think?

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