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St Johns Southgate

21 Sep 2014

I have a bad habit of walking fast. I call it a bad habit, because sometimes it makes me miss the beauty around me.

My mother says that I inherited it from my grandfather. Or it may be my city upbringing. After all, trying to catch a train in the centre of Melbourne means you have to be quick on your feet.

Enter a Washington DC train station in the USA on a cold winter’s morning. It’s peak hour. A man stands with his violin and plays six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2000 people go through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After three minutes, a middle-aged man slowed down and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried off. A little boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly as the kid stopped to look at the violinist.

Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on.

The musician played. In total only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 people gave him money, but hurriedly walked off. He finished playing. No one noticed. No one applauded. No one knew that the violinist was one of the world’s renowned musicians. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, he sold out a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each.

This young artist playing incognito at the train station was organised by The Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognise talent in an unexpected context?

The children did! But I wonder how I would have gone on that cold winter’s morning at the train station. Knowing myself, I probably would have walked hurriedly past with the crowd. And if we don’t 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?

Pastor Ian

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