The Character Movement

What if we drew inspiration from a subway violinist?

By Tony Lehr, Youth Frontiers Retreat Musician

When did our daily rhythms become so comfortable that we hesitate to break them, even for a moment? How rarely do we choose to stray from our routinized path, as we take step after step each day? Why do we often go through life wearing self-prescribed blinders that hide all but our own worlds from our views?

These were all questions I started asking myself while reading an article in “The Washington Post” about famed violinist Joshua Bell.

Sitting on a subway platform, he performed for roughly an hour during the morning commute. The perfectly played notes of Bach singing from his $3.5 million violin undoubtedly landed in the ears of thousands of unsuspecting listeners. Most kept moving, never wavering from their intended paths. Only six decided to even take a moment to pause, breathe, look up from their worlds to notice the average-looking man making the sweet sounds that were floating all around them.

I finished reading the article, watching the video and, if I’m being completely honest, judging those that chose not to stop and listen. I soon came to a realization – one that, just after pointing fingers at others, I did not want to admit: I do this every day. Not wanting to be alone in this admission, I stretched my conclusion to “We all do this every day.” We are all guilty of being so preoccupied with “our stuff” – our friends, our jobs, our schoolwork, our families, our past, our future, our pain, our joys, our accomplishments, our failures – that we never choose to look up.

But what if we did… What if we talked to that person we see on the bus every day, tried a new kind of food or visited a new place either far away or close to home and we saw all the beauty that was there? What if we cried with those people that were hurting? What if we made friends we didn’t think we would, laughed with people that were different than us and tried new ways of thinking? What if we uncovered our ears, opened our eyes and looked for more opportunities to experience the richness of the people, places and feelings that are all around us? What if we chose to not limit ourselves by settling for our daily routines?

I started to have trouble sifting through all of these thoughts. I needed to talk them over, but nobody was around. So, I started to write them down. Then, I thought, “What if other people think about this too?” and, a scarier question to me in the moment, “What if they don’t?”

As I wrote down the multitude of queries, answers and pieces of stories that were sprinting through my brain, I heard a melody that I couldn’t shake. Some of the lines on my paper started to rhyme, and just like that, I was creating a song. Some of it I kept, other pieces I discarded for another day, but once complete, it was going to be my way of asking people the questions that I was wrestling to answer. I would use this song to ask students, “Who are you writing off before you even give them a chance?” Is it that person who sits alone? Is it that person that’s never alone? Is that person you?

My song “Violinist” was inspired by the story of a real violinist, but it was really born out of my need to break my own daily rhythm and observe the world outside of myself. I sing it almost every day on retreats to students and educators because I’ve got a hunch, based on the stories all around me, that I’m not alone in this.

Listen to “Violinist” and other YF musicians’ songs

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