Judging a Book by its Cover


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November 24, 2009
By Posted in Union Square Subway Station | 1 Comment »

As I was getting out of the train at the Union Square subway station a lady said to me: “I’m a fan! I told all my friends about you. Even to my friends in Japan I say – ‘we have the ‘Saw Lady’!'”

At 12:18 the guy who always wears a green coat & black fur hat and who always looks inside the garbage cans for newspapers passed by, checking the two garbage cans, as usual.

At 12:25 Albert, the messenger, stopped to say ‘hi’. As always, he complemented me on my playing: “we’re lucky to have you here” he kindly said.

Saw Lady by Pat Merino
Photographer: © Pat Merino

At 12:30 the guy wearing the green coat and fur hat returned and looked inside the garbage cans again. He pulled out a newspaper but threw it back in.

Heth, the guitar playing busker, was not playing today. He just got back from getting an extension for Jury Duty today.

Heth & Jed

At 2:15 the lady selling churros went down to the platform and said ‘hi’ to me. This is the first time that she said ‘hi’ to me first. Until now it was always me who greeted her first.

An older gentleman said: “I haven’t seen musical saw playing since I left Kentucky”.

A young lady told me that she is a musician and that she tried playing in the subway and the police threw her in jail. I explained about how a few months ago that happened to a lot of buskers on account of an advocacy group giving the police heat about how they should “clean” the streets of buskers. She asked me if playing in the subway hurts my playing elsewhere. I explained that there will always be petty people who would look down at you and judge you on WHERE you play rather then on HOW you play. I told her about my experience with one of the orchestras I played with: during rehearsals they all looked down at me and treated me with disdain, because they thought I was “just a subway musician”. The day of the concert, when the playbills were handed out, all the orchestra members changed their attitude towards me as soon as they read my bio. It happened to be a much more impressive resume than any of theirs. They didn’t judge me on how I played, but rather on where I played. My playing was exactly the same before they realized that I didn’t just played in the subway as it was after they read the playbill… Some people don’t judge the book – they just judge the cover.

Saw Lady by Peter Wang
Photographer: © Peter Wang

A guy said: “You’re making music out of nothing!”

An old gentleman with a long white beard sat on the bench and listened to my playing for an hour, giving me the ‘thumbs up’ after every piece I played. When I was done playing he came to talk to me. He was a conga player but gave it up to go into business – import/export. He made $1500 a week working in an office 9 to 5. “But I’m not working now”, he said.
Saw Lady: “I hope you saved some of the money you made”.
Man: “No. I have five children, a house”. He told me his name is Armando Soto. “NOT ‘Hernando Soto’ who was an explorer who came to America right after Columbus and discovered the Mississippi river” he said.
“Every time you see me, remember that I play congas” he pleaded.
“I would play for you anytime” he said.

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One Response to Judging a Book by its Cover

  1. PatMinNYC on November 25, 2009 at 3:14 am

    This last posting about judgements and perceptions reminded me about this story – seems to fit right in:

    Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.
    4 minutes later:
    the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk….
    6 minutes:
    A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
    10 minutes:
    A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.
    45 minutes:
    The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.
    1 hour:
    He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
    No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
    This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
    One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…. How many other things are we missing.

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