We’re still recovering from our 30 in 30 Grants and the Great American Cleanup. It was encouraging and made us swell with pride to see so many doing so much for our great Commonwealth. We have seen and helped groups and individuals who recycled, planted, cleaned, painted, shared, educated, and bent over backwards to Keep Virginia Beautiful. We saw something recently, though, that made us think of another tack.
If you’re in one of Virginia’s cities, towns, or villages, you may occasionally come across a busker. A busker is a street performer. It might be a mime, or a juggler, or even a musician. Someone playing a guitar, or pounding on some buckets, or perhaps a group of musicians. While some have questionable talent, some are often quite good.
The Washington Post conducted an experiment about what people actually notice during their everyday lives. Would they stop for a moment and recognize beauty? They enlisted a young violinist to play for an hour in a busy Metro station in Downtown Washington, D.C., a stop at the epicenter of our Federal Government. They would record his experience and measure how many passers-by stopped, listened, or contributed to his open violin case fund. How many would notice the young man in jeans and ball cap flailing on a fiddle?
But the experiment was rigged.
As morning commuters rushed in and out of the station they were offered the work of Joshua Bell. Some background on Bell:
Joshua Bell started taking violin lessons at the age of four. His parents found him stringing rubber bands on the drawers of his dresser, and playing music by moving the drawers in and out. He made his national debut at 18, playing at Carnegie Hall. He has won a Grammy, played on an Oscar-winning soundtrack, and has recorded or played on 32 albums since 1988. Led Zeppelin released 8 original albums. Interview Magazine said that his playing, “does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.”
Bell’s instrument of choice, his “axe”, was for a long time the Tom Tyler Stradivarius. It was made by Antonio Stradivari in 1732. He ditched that one for his current fiddle, the Gibson ex Huberman, made by Stradavari in 1713 and worth about $4 million. That is what he took from the case that morning in Washington.
As Bell started to play, he chose Bach’s “Chaconne.” It is considered one of the most complicated violin pieces ever composed. Brahms, no slouch nor stranger to intricate musical pieces, wrote fellow composer Clara Shumann, “If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”
Over the course of the next hour, Bell played Bach, Massenet, and Schubert’s “Ave Maria” among others. 1,097 people passed him at the station. Seven actually stopped for a moment, and twenty-seven tossed some money in his case. Imagine that, throwing a quarter in a case that holds a 300-year old $4 million violin. The last person threw in a $20 bill. She recognized him from a performance that she had paid good money to attend. All told he made $32.17.
There are some things going on in the Commonwealth that remind us to pause, reflect, and take in the beauty that surrounds us.
We were sent a story from Blacksburg about a group trying to protect some trees. Save Stadium Woods is trying to preserve 11.5 acres of old-growth forest next to Lane Stadium on the Virginia Tech campus. Some of these trees are estimated to be over 300 years old and many predate our creation as a state. The administration wants to raze the site for an indoor practice facility. The students and faculty of Virginia Tech have walked by this copse for generations, and someone finally stopped to look at them.
If you’re familiar with that area, you may be like us and fond of the rolling hills, ancient mountains, and sweeping valleys of the region. I Love Mountains is dedicated to educating us about the hazards of mountaintop removal mining, and preserving the mountains and communities of Appalachia. You might recall our feelings about scraping away an entire mountain for the sake of coal. There ought to be a better way. After all, we’ve been looking at those mountains for a millennium.
Sometimes, it seems, we need to stop for a moment, and appreciate the beauty that is all around us. That would certainly give us a better reason to work harder to preserve it.