My pastor told the story this weekend of a now-famous experiment conducted by Gene Weingarten from the Washington Post. Weingarten interviewed Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, to see what he thought might happen if one of the world's greatest violinists performed incognito during the rush hour of foot traffic in the city.
Would people notice the busker? Would they recognize the greatness before them? Would they stop to listen, maybe toss a few bucks into the open violin case? Or would they stroll on by and miss the opportunity to hear a world-renowned musician whose sold-out concerts play to elite audiences?
Slatkin predicted that such a violinist would go mostly unnoticed.
He said out of 1,000 people, there might be 35 or 40 who would recognize the quality of the music, and maybe 75-100 would stop and listen. He predicted that a crowd would surely gather, even if it was a small crowd, and they violinist might get about $150 in cash donations from his sidewalk performance. The musician would be mostly unnoticed, but surely some people would know excellence when they saw it.
Slatkin didn't know that this hypothetical situation had actually taken place. In the middle of morning rush hour, Joshua Bell, one of the greatest violinists in the world, played his Stradivari violin for 43 minutes, performing six classical pieces.
More than a thousand people passed by.
Seven of them stopped to listen for at least one minute.
In his open violin case, he collected $32 and some change.
We don't know greatness when we see it.
This weekend, I went downtown to listen to Tyler's acapella group as they caroled downtown, strolling through the sidewalks of Denver Center for Performing Arts, the famous Larimer Square, and the festive corners of 16th Street.
Most people strolled by. Some noisy pedicabs even rode their bike in the space between the singers and their small crowd of fans - with Mariah Carey blasting from the carriage behind the bicycle. It's not that these high school students are Lincoln Center's next generation, but you never know, right? They're young vocalists making music in six-part harmonies. It's worth a pause, I think.
It is what it is. Most of us don't know greatness when we see it.
Her family was strolling by, and she pulled away from her parents to listen to the music. They paused, letting her listen while the Talons finished their number, and then they leaned in to scoop her up.
But the little girl resisted.
She pushed their hands away, keeping her feet on the ground. She stepped closer to the music, getting as close as she could. She wasn't leaving until the singers were finished. She stayed for every song in the whole set, clapping her mittened hands and cheering with her honey voice. She had experienced greatness.
This is how it starts, little one.
May you always stop to hear the music.
And may we protect for you a world that always sings to you.