Would you recognize this man? Do you know who he is?
He is Joshua Bell. For all appearances, “… he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play…”
Would we have noticed?
I wonder how many of us would have paid attention to this young man as he played his violin in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of the Metro station in Washington, D.C. Over 1,000 people passed him on the way to work; mostly “mid-level bureaucrats”, as they were described.
To read the rest of the story, I invite you to click on this link. It will take you to the Washington Post article of April 8, 2007, Pearls Before Breakfast. The article won the Pulitzer Prize. I believe you will LOVE the article, for it reveals a lot about us, about the society we live in. If you read it, leave your impressions in the Comments section below. I would love to hear from you.
No more suspense
OK, enough suspense for now. Joshua Bell happened to be “the best classical musician in America” at the time the article was published. An international virtuoso. And he performed six classical pieces while “undercover”, as part of a cultural experiment conducted by the Post. One person recognized him — ONE person, of the well over 1,000 that passed him as he played at the station. The lady who recognized was in the crowd at his acclaimed concert three weeks earlier.
Why, and how is this relevant?
We all have busy lives making a living, living life. How is it possible for a famous person such as Joshua Bell to go unnoticed for close to one hour, at a busy location where so many people seemingly did not even notice someone playing a violin? The fact that the instrument was a $3.5MM Stradivarius was irrelevant. It could have been any violin. But the music was angelic, complex, impossible to miss, if someone had simply listened, and watched.
How does this apply to our craft?
Attention to detail, to the techniques we use, to our hand tools and to our power tools, to our processes, to our materials, to everything we do in the shop, and to everything IN the shop, might allow us to make the next amazing piece, the truly outstanding piece that will be admired by everyone else. According to Joshua Bell, his violin was made during the “golden age” of Antonio Stradivari, “…toward the end of his career, when he had access to the finest spruce, maple and willow, and when his technique had been refined to perfection…” And he goes on to explain that if “he” (refering to Stradivari – always “he”) had removed even one millimeter too much, the sound would not be anywhere near as perfect. And no violins sound as perfect as those from the 1710s still, according to Bell.
I have never made a musical instrument, and I may never make one. But this is a great lesson to remember. For it is this kind of attention that will make one of my pieces stand out from others’. Oh, if I could simply get that ONE perfect piece… But first I must block out everything else, and concentrate on the one thing.
What do YOU wish to make?
I put this one on your lap. Is there ONE thing you want to master, but something gets in your way and keeps you from achieving perfection? Do you need more training in our craft? Or is the pressure to produce/produce so great that it is impossible to achieve? Do you slow down and take notice of things going on around you? Would you want to be the next Antonio Stradivari, or the next Joshua Bell?
Let me know in the Comments, below. I look forward them!
— Al Navas