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April 9, 2007

On Awareness

Today's Star Tribune reported the following:

""HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L'ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, 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. It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by," wrote Gene Weingarten for the Washington Post. Almost all of them were on the way to work. "No one knew it, 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."

Here's a link to the full Washington Post story, complete with some videos.

Although the story itself is quite a jolt, it says a lot to me about how un-aware we have gotten. I've mentioned earlier that the undergraduates in my class have their iPods plugged in until the minute class starts and plug them back in the minute that class ends. When people are walking on campus, they seem totally oblivious to their surroundings - the people, the birds singing, and yes - even Joshua Bell playing that amazing violin.

I predict that 10 years from now, there will be a great epiphany about "awareness" - people will be re-discovering how important it is to be in tune with their surroundings. In the meantime, I'll be paying close attention to those magical moments -- like the time I heard the invisible (to me) chorus rehearsing in the residence hall at King's College, or the time (while on the way to another concert) we stopped on the Washington Mall for a performance of Porgy and Bess being simulcast to the crowds outside, or to the time the Minnesota Women's Chorus was performing in the lobby of the Guthrie. Music is everywhere and needs to be performed and to be heard.

But this is about a lot more than music, isn't it? In what other ways are we oblivious to the amazing things around us??

Posted by hgroteva at April 9, 2007 8:06 AM | Life | Music - of all kinds


I suffer from lack of awareness all the time. I have a personal cure. It is a friend of mine who is an artist, not by trade but by personality type. He is always aware of the most amazing aspects of what would seem to be the most mundane things. My favorite story about him was from a bike ride a group of us was taking on Nantucket. He stops and just stares at a sand dune with some short scrubby grass on it. I stop next to him and look to see if I can figure out what he is looking at. He just says “beautiful�. After a minute of searching the dune for anything of interest I ask “What�? He says “look at the colors�. I am still a little befuddled when he starts to describe what he sees. “Purples, greens, yellows, reds� he says and I start to see what he is talking about. I can see the subtle shades and tones. All of a sudden what was a dull pile of sand was now alive with colors. I spend most every day staring at a computer monitor, I work at an online store that sells area rugs, and I think I get numb to a lot of amazing things. As a matter of fact my friend would probably be able to explain to me why my job is amazing. Anyway I hope you are right. We have gone from walkmans to iPods and video games to web surfing which are all very disconnecting. They remove us having to interact. Ironically now web 2.0 is supposedly bringing interaction to the internet when interaction is often right next to us. I guess the question of weather we will get reconnected with the world around us, become aware again, is whether these devices are just a distraction from the world or a purposeful escape from it.

Posted by: Paul at April 23, 2007 12:58 PM