By Mal Davies

Anonymous genius takes a bow


One of my favourite social experiments features virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell and took place on a Washington D.C. railway station on the morning of 12 January, 2007 (search for ‘Joshua Bell subway’ in YouTube, if you want to see footage of the event).

One of the world’s finest violinists, Bell dressed and acted as a busker and played classical violin solos for 43 minutes on a $3.5 million 1713 Stradivarius. During his stay, 1,097 people passed him and only seven people—yes, seven—paused longer than a minute to hear him play, and only one recognised him.

The performance was arranged by Washington Post journalist Gene Weingarten to see if anyone would stop to listen to the man who had three nights earlier sold out the Boston Symphony Hall—where the cheap seats were $100— Bell was happy to play along, not for ego’s sake (i.e. how many people recognised him) but for the sake of the experiment.

Weingarten was curious as to ‘how we perceive beauty’; can we recognise brilliance when we see it? He knew that marketing research had shown that consumers would often buy a product simply because of its packaging, even though the product was identical with cheaper, less appealingly packaged goods. Did this rationale also apply to the arts and, specifically in this instance, music? Would people recognise a concert violinist in a baseball cap?

In the Bible (the book of Luke, chapter two, verses 41-52) it says that even as a 12-year-old, when Jesus spoke to the religious teachers, they were “amazed at His understanding and His answers” and, when He taught as an adult, listeners commented on His wisdom and the sense of ‘authority’ in His teaching,

Jesus taught with wisdom beyond His years and with a depth and perception that intimidated even the scholars of his day. Yet He was an uneducated tradesman from a small country town. Where could such ability and knowledge come from?

It seems only some saw that Jesus was gifted and had a unique understanding of God, spiritual matters and the nature of the soul.

We may not all have the know-how to recognise a good violinist when we hear one, but can you recognise common sense and wise teaching when you read it?

I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of the Bible and see what Jesus has to offer. It’s brilliant.

Courtesy Warcry magazine

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