Joshua Bell: Subways to Metropolitans
Posted by Orrin Woodward on February 19, 2013
Joshua Bell is America’s greatest living violin player. This “poet of the violin” enthralls audiences around the world with his breathtaking mastery of the violin and the stage. Bell is equally at home as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and orchestra leader. His summer appearances included the premiere of a new concerto for violin and double bass by Edgar Meyer performed by Bell and Meyer at Tanglewood, Aspen, and the Hollywood Bowl. In addition, Bell appeared at the Festival del Sole, Ravinia, Verbier, Salzburg, Saratoga, and Mostly Mozart festivals. He kicked off the San Francisco Symphony’s fall season followed by performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston, Seattle, Omaha, Cincinnati, and Detroit Symphonies. Fall highlights included a tour of South Africa, a European tour with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and a European recital tour with Sam Haywood. In 2013, Bell will tour the US with the Cleveland Orchestra and Europe with the New York Philharmonic as well as perform with the Tucson, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Nashville Symphony Orchestras.
Bell’s first recording was released when he was eighteen, and now he has over forty CDs released, including the Grammy-nominated crossover recording Short Trip Home with composer and double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, as well as a recording with Meyer of the Bottesini Gran Duo Concertante. Bell also collaborated with Wynton Marsalis on the Grammy-winning spoken word children’s album Listen to the Storyteller and Bela Flecks’ Grammy Award recording Perpetual Motion. Highlights of the Sony Classical film soundtracks on which Bell has performed include The Red Violin, which won the Oscar for Best Original Score, the Classical Brit-nominated Ladies in Lavender, and the films Iris and Defiance. In addition, Bell has been embraced by a wide television audience with appearances ranging from The Tonight Show, The Tavis Smiley Show, The Charlie Rose Show, and CBS Sunday Morning to Sesame Street and Entertainment Tonight. In 2010, Bell starred in his fifth Live From Lincoln Center Presents broadcast titled: “Joshua Bell with Friends @ The Penthouse.” Other PBS shows include Great Performances – Joshua Bell: West Side Story Suite from Central Park, Memorial Day Concert performed on the lawn of the United States Capitol, and A&E’s Biography. He has twice performed on the Grammy Awards telecast, performing music from Short Trip Home and West Side Story Suite. He was one of the first classical artists to have a music video air on VH1, and he has been the subject of a BBC Omnibus documentary.
Finally, Bell has appeared in publications ranging from Strad and Gramophone to The New York Times, People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue, USA Today, The Wall St. Journal, GQ, Vogue, and Readers Digest among many. In 2007, Bell performed incognito in a Washington, DC subway station for a Washington Post story by Gene Weingarten examining art and context. The story earned Weingarten a Pulitzer Prize and sparked an international firestorm of discussion which continues to this day.
To say that Joshua Bell has achieved international fame in the musical world would be a serious understatement. Why do I tell the reader all of this? Have I suddenly joined the Joshua Bell fan club? Although I certainly enjoy his music, I have another reason for sharing his story. In an interesting social experiment, Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten proposed that Joshua Bell play his violin incognito in the Washington Metro subway. It’s one of the busiest sections of the subway and would ensure many subway users heard the greatest living violinist. The video is embedded below.
For forty-five minutes on the morning of January 12, 2007, concert violinist Joshua Bell stood incognito on a Washington, DC subway platform and performed classical music for passersby. “No one knew it,” explained Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten several months after the event, “but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.” Weingarten came up with the experiment to see how ordinary people would react.
And how did they react? For the most part, not at all. More than a thousand people entered the Metro station as Bell worked his way through a set list of classical masterpieces, but only a few stopped to listen. “Some dropped money in his open violin case (for a total of about $27), but most never even stopped to look,” Weingarten wrote.
I thought about this scenario many times over the last year and it finally hit me why this was so fascinating to me: People are so busy, busy, busy surviving that few ever notice the beauty around them. The subway passengers walked right by the most beautiful music played by the best violinist on his million-dollar Stradivarius violin. One of the anonymous emails circulating about this incident asked, “If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?” What finally sunk in was, out of context, greatness in life is ignored. Joshua Bell, in context, is the greatest living violinist, but out of context, he is just another musician attempting to make a buck in the subway.
Joshua Bell, in other words, had to get out of the subway and onto the Metropolitan stages before his talents and gifts were recognized by the world. In the same way, many people, with talents and gifts, are playing beautiful music in their chosen fields, but no one is noticing. The subways of life keep people so busy that they never stop to notice the beauty around them, including the beauty and talents of those around them. Imagine if Joshua Bell only had this forty-five-minute window in the subway to determine whether he was any good with the violin. He may have labeled himself as a poor player because no one was interested! One of the keys for success is to never take advice from someone who does not have the results one desires! How, in other words, can a subway person tell you anything about the Metropolitan?
My whole purpose in life is to create “Metropolitan” stages across the world where people can reveal their talents. Study the leaders in the LIFE business and see how each had amazing talents that were hidden in the subway environment. It wasn’t until they climbed out of the subway that others recognized what they had within them. For instance, Chris Brady was a process engineer in a factory. The world wouldn’t have experienced his amazing blend of humor and teaching in the factory! Tim Marks was an engineering supervisor. The world would have missed one of the best implementors of the PDCA process I have ever met had he stayed in that position. Claude Hamilton was in the Canadian military. His leadership gifts and orchestration ability would have been hidden from the world had he not chosen to climb.
Significantly, each of these LIFE Founders had Joshua Bell talents, but people didn’t seem to notice his greatness when living in the subway. LIFE gives people a chance to climb out of the subways of life onto the Metropolitan stages. However, climbing is never easy, and few will consistently and persistently climb up and out. Nonetheless, I love the fact that everyone is given an equal opportunity to move up, if he or she so chooses. In truth, this is all anyone should ask for from life: a chance. When I was shown the stairway out of the subway, that was all I needed. Laurie and I took it from there, and we climbed relentlessly until we reached the Metropolitan. We have dedicated our lives to go back into the subways of life on “search and rescue” missions to find other people who want out of the subway but do not know where the stairway is. This thirty-one-minute video (I know it’s long for today’s media age, but it has essential lessons for life) was recorded live in Visalia, California at one of the three LIFE Leadership Conventions. It shares the key lessons I learned through meditating on the Washington Post social experiment with Joshua Bell.
If the reader loves what he does, then become a LIFE customer and enjoy world-class leadership training to help out in the stairway climb. If the reader has no plan to get out of the subway, then become a LIFE Member and be one of the best students of someone who has made it out of the subways of life. I wish you all the success you earn on your climb.