Context Part 1: "Pearls Before Breakfast"

A while ago I read an article in the Washington Post called Pearls Before Breakfast. This article was about an experiment.

A professional violinist would stand in the Washington DC metro posing as a street musician and serenade DC commuters on there way to work. But it wouldn’t be just any violinist. It would be Joshua Bell “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”. The purpose would be to see how differently people would respond to him as opposed to the average street musician.

What they found was pretty striking: Of the thousands of people traveling to work that day, ALMOST NO ONE PAID HIM ANY ATTENTION. In fact only one woman stopped to listen and that was because she recognized his face from a concert three weeks before. “Here he was, the international virtuoso, sawing away, begging for money. She had no idea what the heck was going on, but whatever it was, she wasn’t about to miss it.”

“It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” The woman says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn’t do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?”

My point is this: Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are, how correct you are, how smart you are, how creative you are or how passionate you are. If you are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or doing it the wrong way, then you could very well be wasting your time. The key word here is “context”.

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10 comments
  1. Jason said:

    good point. i can sit on the sidewalk of haight st all day long and make nothing. but let a cute girl go out there with two chords and shes making bank. lame.

  2. Matt said:

    Wow. That hit home. Time for much prayer and contemplation.

  3. read that article a while back, really eye-opening. one of my favorite parts was where he talked about how strange it was to not hear thundering applause at the end of a piece; in the video you can see him sort of awkwardly tune in between songs and stand like he doesn't know what to do.i've been reading eugene peterson's 'christ plays in ten thousand places' for the past week or so, and he talks a lot about the importance of keeping gospel presentations within a relational context. it's interesting to think about the fact that there is more to the gospel than "correct propositional content" that must simply be repeated to fulfill the idea of "sharing the gospel." peterson especially stresses the importance of common meals and points out the consistency of Jesus' evangelism taking place in home meal settings. context is all-important.good thoughts, excited to see the next parts in this discussion-

  4. Thanks,Oddly enough this made me think of artists who were made to worship and how we often don't recognize worship outside of church and church outside of steeples. God's kingdom keeps advancing and we can see and point it out to others if stop trying to pin it down as a specific formula… Thanks for getting me thinking.

  5. Robin said:

    He could have been having an off day.

  6. danielle said:

    This is so true. and to think that a lot of the time, we forget context and our message ends up falling on deaf ears because were not metting people on their level. Jesus spoke about the importance of meeting people on their level. really good point!

  7. We are focusing on the musician and the context but doesn't this also speak to the passers by? In the middle of rush hour our eyes aren't really open to anything but accomplishing the goal of going from point A to point B, what our to do list is for the day, etc. Not really on having open eyes to see beauty around us. Context is very important in our ever moving self interested society but I pray, at least for me, I can have my eyes open to see the bigger things around me that aren't all about me.

  8. I think this experience is commentary on our inability to see value in things unless they are presented in a form we have been indoctrined to respect. "So-and-so went to Harvard" or "So-and-so has performed at Carnegy Hall". Perhaps we should slow down and appreciate things for what they are. Is Joshua Bell good or is he 'just' internationally revered? Make time for being.

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