Underground Music and Subway Zen

You may have heard that the Washington Post conducted an experiment recently in which they placed world-class violinist Joshua Bell in a subway station during morning rush hour, playing a $3.5 million violin, and videotaped everything to find out, in their words, if “in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, [beauty would] transcend.”

What happened? Well, of course no one stopped, and Bell, whose concert tickets go for upwards of $100, collected a mere $32 in change over the 45 minutes he played. It is an interesting experiment, but there are far too many variables to draw any real conclusions from it.

By far the best response I’ve seen (and there have been a ton over the last week) comes from Guy Kawasaki at How to Change the World. He says:
First, take a so-so violinist, hand him a Stradivari, introduce him as a wunderkind from the Black Forest, let him play as the opening act at a ritzy concert, and see if the audience fawns over him.

Second, get Steve Jobs to sell iPods for forty-five minutes in a Best Buy in South Dakota and observe what happens.
Totally. You know, when I can play children’s music on guitar for half an hour in a New York City subway and make $25, it’s impossible to say anything for certain. Except that, obviously, I must be better than Joshua Bell.

Guy also leaves us with a couple great lessons learned from this experiment:
Don’t let the absence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is bad.

Don’t let the presence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is good.

Don’t pass by life much less let life pass you by.

Here are a few of mine:
  • Tip the musicians playing in the subway. Except the drummers - especially if they’re playing on buckets. I love percussion, but seriously, this just makes everyone’s brains explode.

  • Go to the subway sometime when you have nothing to do. Pay two bucks to get in, and walk around for an hour listening to the sounds people make, the sounds trains make, the sounds of life underground. Take it all in - the architecture, the smells, the ebb and flow of people traffic. Look closest at what you see every day. Find peace in this place of business. (If you don’t ride the subway, all I can say is you’re missing out. Really. Take a trip an try it at least once in your life.)

  • Don’t feel bad that you missed something huge. Allow every moment, even the most humble, to transform you.

  • Fame and talent and skill and money mean nothing if you fail to connect. People matter. Nothing else.

  • You can’t control everything. Use this to your advantage and take a break every now and then. Go with the flow.

  • Find a quiet place. Go there every day. Stop moving, stop talking, stop doing. Just be.
And whatever else you do today, make sure you’ve read this article. It’s kind of related, and very awesome.