Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
April 8th, 2007


Background noise

In 2004, I went with some fellow high schoolers on a mission trip to Chicago. Towards the end, we were treated to a day at Navy Pier and all the touristy areas downtown. On the way back, we stood waiting for the Blue Line train in a brightly-lit but very boring station underground. (Matt, who had a knack for napping wherever he went, leaned into a small nook in the wall and promptly began sleeping.) Soon, a man nearby pulled out his guitar. His strumming wasn’t so bad, but his singing was. Despite that, we sang along, added a bit to his donation box, and stayed around until the train came. Though the music he produced didn’t hold a candle to the stuff in our iPods, it was very welcome. It was real; it was there.

The Washington Post ran a story today about an experiment that saw renowned violinist Joshua Bell perform in street clothes, during rush hour, at a busy DC Metro station:

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. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities—as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

The article is a beautiful profile of the harried, hurried crowd. But really, you don’t need a virtuoso. There’s already plenty to observe wherever you go. The guy in the corner with the multi-million-dollar Stradivarius? He’s just there to show you what everyone else is missing out on.

Many thanks to Steve Nguyễn for the tip.