17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Monday, April 09, 2007

"Pearls Before Breakfast"

The Washington Post this weekend reports on the results of a most amazing experiment. They line up a premier, world class violinist, Joshua Bell, to play at a Metro station. Then, they start rolling the film to see what happens. Who notices? Who stops? Who throws money into his violin case (that houses and protects his multi-million dollar Strad)?

Street musicians and performers are familiar to anyone who has regularly used public transportation. I've heard Simon and Garfunkel on pan flute, watched accordianists, and of course, heard many of the all popular violin players. And my reaction to them has mostly been to notice, but to just keep on walking. The Washington Post found that the vast majority of the 1,097 commuters who passed by Joshua Bell did was exactly the same thing. Their pace didn't slow, their eyes weren't averted toward the musician. They just kept up walking, heading towards the escalator, focusing on getting somewhere. Somewhere else.

As I read this article, I was moved. I kept hoping that someone would stop, that some person would respond to the amazing music that was being played out in a lowly, grimy, smelly Metro station. And as much as I would love to believe that I would be different, that I would have instinctively known something beautiful and precious and amazing was being created, and would have stopped to listen, one description of a commuter stopped me flat.

A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She's got his hand.

"I had a time crunch," recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. "I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement."

Evvie is her son, Evan. Evan is 3.

You can see Evan clearly on the video. He's the cute black kid in the parka who keeps twisting around to look at Joshua Bell, as he is being propelled toward the door.

"There was a musician," Parker says, "and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time."

So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan's and Bell's, cutting off her son's line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look.

I am almost entirely sure that this is exactly what I would have done. Firmly grasped my childrens' hands, tried to distract them with something else, and just kept on moving. And recognizing myself so clearly, I felt profound sorrow.

I wonder about how many times I myself have unknowingly passed by some event or scene of majesty and profound beauty, completely ignorant, intent on hurrying along, not taking time to stop, pause, and notice the world around me. More hauntingly, I wonder how often I have forced my children to match my pace, depriving them of experiencing firsthand the world around them.

In a more spiritual realm, too, I wonder what of God's small miracles I have missed because I was too occupied with mundane tasks and daily frustrations.

The staff of the Washington Post found one interesting thing in their observation of the passersby. All the children turned back to look at Bell, and tried to stop and watch. Every single one. To my dismay, not one single parent stopped, but hurried them on their way.

Like most children, mine do not have the false sense of urgency that I often force upon our days. They are content to stroll along, picking up rocks, playing in the water, and looking at dogs. They like to giggle and dance and chase each other and jump on the couch. Their eyes are newer, and they are more attuned to the world around them.

I admit, I have a hard time stopping and and enjoying the moment for what it is. The Post article quotes W.H.Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

I do love this idea, that pausing to take in the world around us will more often give us life than hurrying from one location to another, either physically or metaphysically.

So, for discussion: tell me what you think of this article. And tell me what you do to halt the busyness of life and to heighten your sensitivity to the pearls in the world around you.


  • Chloe sent me this article this morning, and I was fascinated by it. I too felt a little twinge in my heart reading about the parents dragging their children by as the kids looked back to see. I know that I'm that mom sometimes, for sure. But I really do try to fight that urge, to stop and let Max splash in the puddle or take the long long ramp instead of the short staircase, or whatever it is his almost-4-year-old brain finds infinitely more interesting than my 30-year-old one does. I'm not great at it, but any time I manage to catch myself before I drag him away, and give him just than extra 30-seconds of whatever it is he wants to do, I pat myself on the back. All I can do is get better at it bit by bit, and certainly having him around has helped me to notice things more.

    It's a great article, I'm really glad you posted it here for discussion!
    posted by Blogger marian at 4/09/2007 02:21:00 PM  

  • Wow. I just cannot get over the fact that they were walking by Joshua Bell! I mean, the music alone was just pure genius. You can't fake that kind of perfection.

    I find myself being a "hurry, let's go" type of person --luckily, my husband is better at giving my children more time. Museums, parks, zoos, etc...He is always giving the kids time to take in what they see before them. Maybe that's why he is so intelligent himself...hmmm...maybe I'm onto something....

    Anway, this article was purely amazing and I'm glad you shared it. It's going to have me thinking for a very long time...
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 4/09/2007 04:06:00 PM  

  • I think that this shows how much your basic, normal American relies on good(?) marketing to tell him or her when to part with a buck or two. Surely, someone playing a violin in a subway tunnel couldn't really be all that good, could they? I mean, if the violinist were any good at all, he'd find a better venue to play in, right?

    So, because there was no sign informing everyone that they were listening to the dulcet tones of virtuoso Joshua Bell, they made an assumption about the quality of the music they were hearing.

    Who are you going to believe? My violin or your lying ears?
    posted by Blogger Mark N at 4/09/2007 04:22:00 PM  

  • I loved the article and your thoughts on it, Michelle.
    My thoughts were similar to Mark N's...by the time we are adults, we are programmed to accept what is quality and what isn't based on environment..."dude is playing his violin in the metro station so he must have no real talent..."

    My other thought was I wonder if the outcome of this experiment would change if he had been playing on a street in Berkeley or Portland or some other more laid-back West Coast city. People get so tunnel-visioned in big cities as they go about their day....it's like there is too much to take in so they have to select what they focus on...and combine that with the hyper-competitive overachiever lifestyle of DC and Joshua Bell never stood a chance.

    Like Marian, I try to be a mom who lets her children explore their environment at their own pace...sometimes I succeed, other times not. I have to say that is BY FAR my fav thing about being a mom, being able to see the world as my kids do, with all of the curiosity and wonder that they possess.

    Oh, and thanks for reading the Post!
    posted by Blogger Jen at 4/09/2007 05:48:00 PM  

  • Wow! Fantastic article. Not suprised that children wanted to stop. I beleive they do have natural ability to appreciate beauty like this. It is definately heaven sent. I think I would have stopped. I am a romantic when it comes to mucic and even street performers! If they are sound good to me, I always stop.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 4/09/2007 07:27:00 PM  

  • Scratch the "are" in that last sentance!
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 4/09/2007 07:29:00 PM  

  • I too loved reading this article and wondered what my reaction would have been. In the NYC subways, Princess would often hear the music and want to see where it was coming from. I tried to make an effort to hunt down the source as often as we could.

    I would hope I would have stopped even for a moment to listen, but it is likely that I wouldn't have if my daughter wasn't with me. It is so easy to get caught up with the everyday comings and goings. For me, the big city environment made it worse. In CA, I feel like I am better at it for some reason. Maybe like Jen said, it has to do with the more laid back environment?

    I loved your thoughts on the entire experiment. Especially looking at it from a spiritual level as well.

    I am trying to be better at not cramming my days full of to-do's and activities so I make more chances in my day to breathe and enjoy the day. It's almost like structuring some unstructured time.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 4/09/2007 08:26:00 PM  

  • Loved the article. I stop most of the time when I am with my children (esp. when we are on the way home b/c then being on time is a non issue), and most of the time whether with them or not I make a conscious choice as to whether or not I am going to listen. I listen, read their sign, look, and keep walking if it isn't holding my interest. I also wanted to audition to be a subway singer but missed the cut last year, and might aud. in May for next year...so I kind of have a fascination with subway performing.

    I probably would have stopped for a second with Bell and if with my kids, they would have dropped the coinage. I would never have recognized him b/c I have never heard of him before...

    I too enjoyed the "every day miracles" part of your post...but for me that is the blessing of children, they make me stop far more often than not. The image of the mom walking in front of the boy, I didn't like that, but I am also super-interested in music for my children, and might have done the same thing if they were fascinated say with a bug or dirt or the ice cream truck, something I value less.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 4/10/2007 05:34:00 AM  

  • This was amazing. Thanks for the reminder. i used to be a tiny bit better about allowing my kids to "stop and smell the roses" but the last year or two since I've been back to work, I haven't been on their level as much. What an amazing story. thanks again for the reminder to slow down a little and enjoy the beauty.
    posted by Anonymous meems at 4/10/2007 07:28:00 AM  

  • One thing that some of you referred to and that I thought was an interesting part of this whole experience was the focus on context. In the WP article, there was a discussion with a museum curator who talked about taking the frame off a painted masterpiece and hanging in a restaurant. Although some might notice that it looked like a painting that should be in a museum, they would probably quickly dismiss the idea because of its location in a restaurant. Probably only someone with a lot of knowledge about art and about this particular art period and artist would be able to recognize the painting for what it truly was. Context matters in how we process information and in what we are aware of, no question about it.

    I am less concerned about recognizing true genius in the form of someone like Joshua Bell than I am in being more aware of and moved by small beauties in the world around me--maybe those are things that no one else would care about. And I agree with what many have said: my children have really helped me to view the world with new eyes. I know this is cliche, but the idea about the journey being more important that the destination has been on my mind since reading this.

    And I think one thing that helps me is to pad our schedule with some extra time. It's when we're running behind that I really get anxious with my kids. I know that to get Maren to school, we have to leave by 12:10, and I have to go back from there with lunch and all the rest.

    And Jen, my only two sources of news on the internet are the NYT and WP.
    posted by Blogger Michelle at 4/10/2007 12:23:00 PM  

  • I originally forwarded this article to some of the Tales Girls this past weekend - I grew up in the DC area, know that subway station well and LOVE Josh Bell, so this article resonated with me for personal reasons.

    I'm so glad that you wrote this post and called our attention to the large and small beauties in everyday life, Michelle. Today I was walking around Berkeley with my two kids and Simon (age 4) kept stopping to look at various things on the street...and I let him. I was more concious of letting him experience the things that HE found beautiful instead of rushing along without looking back. It made for a few interesting conversations between us and made him happy.
    posted by Blogger chloe at 4/10/2007 03:28:00 PM  

  • This is such a neat experiment. I don't read the WP (sorry Jen!) so I am glad you posted it here. Great article.
    I always loved the music in the subway, especially the really cool Chinese(I think) instrument usually played at the 57th/Lex station. I have never heard it before and still don't know what it is called, but it was absolutely beautiful.
    Cliche or not, it is an amazing thing to experience this world with a child.
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 4/10/2007 08:03:00 PM  

  • Loved this article too. Thanks so much for sharing it, Michelle. I have to admit, if Bell had been in the middle of the Bach Chaconne when I walked by, I definitely would have stopped because I know the piece well and admire anyone who can play it at all, let alone well, as, obviously, he was. I've heard good musicians in the subway before and usually assume they're students or orchestra members trying to make money while they practice. Sometimes I can tell they're playing scales or fingering exercises rather than pieces of music.

    I also read this article with a slightly different perspective because I've played my violin in the NYC subway (didn't know you had to audition--was I breaking the law?). At first I felt like a beggar or at least that people would see me as a beggar. But in the hour that I played, not only did I earn $35, but I had numerous people request certain pieces and stop and thank me for providing something beautiful in such an ugly place (on the NWQR platform in Times Square). I actually felt appreciated. Bell reports how unnerving it was to be "ignored" (for the first time in his career most likely). Are New Yorkers more appreciative of classical music than DC residents? It was Christmas time and I was playing carols along with a few classical pieces, so perhaps that made a difference ("Greensleaves/What Child is This" definitely got the most reactions out of people). But I actually felt like people were grateful I was there.

    Obviously, I'm nowhere near as good as Bell, so it's interesting to me that people in DC were so so uninterested in him.
    posted by Blogger sunny at 4/11/2007 05:54:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home