Do you dread your morning commute? What if a full orchestra performed for you tomorrow morning? That's what Copenhagen Phil (Sjællands Symfoniorkester) did for passengers on the Copenhagen Metro last month.
When I watched this flash mob video, I noticed the smiles coming slowly to people’s faces as they realize what’s going on. Caught off guard, they respond simply and honestly to a simple and honest beauty. For the space of the song they’re transfigured; they’re no longer passengers on a commuter train, avoiding each others’ eyes, but participants in something unique, intentional—something that doesn’t happen every day. They’re in on the joke, and so they are able to look at—possibly even see—each other, and smile. It’s what might be called a glorious interruption.
But what does it interrupt? After watching this video several times, I begin to notice the people's expressions before they realize what is happening. Then, I notice the people on the margins of the shot, the ones who refuse to smile even when they understand. What’s going on in their heads? I think I might have some idea.
I’ve ridden a few trains myself, crammed into overcrowded Underground cars, sliding between suits and briefcases in the early morning, headed to work. My countenance was rarely what you would call uplifted. Usually I was behind my headphones, buried in a book, blinking sleep out of my eyes. The train was a non-space, a long ellipsis punctuating my day. Sometimes the ellipsis extended past the journey, through the whole work day, and I’d get off the train to head home, wondering what I’d been doing for nine hours. I probably would have been among the hundreds of people who walked past Joshua Bell as he gave his famous performance in the D.C. Metro.
Do our routines make us resist these interruptions? The comments in the Joshua Bell video point out, perhaps correctly, that people can’t be expected to stop and listen to every street performer—no matter how famous they may turn out to be—if they are going to feed their families, fulfill their obligations, etc. One commenter wrote,
Of course people on their way to work aren't going to stop to listen to someone play the violin. I wouldn't either. ... You proved that people with something important to do can't just stop on a dime.
Another commenter complained the whole thing was a setup, unfairly designed to make people look callous simply because they are on a schedule. This commenter wrote,
No one at Washington Post expected this? How do they go to work every morning? Do they stop somewhere and listen to street artists? Most of us wake up with a schedule, with goals, with a plan. We are ready to pay more than a 100 dollars to listen to musicians when the work is done not when we are going to work!
Maybe these comments are true. Maybe the average Metro rider’s musical tastes simply don’t lean towards classical violin. I don’t know. I'm left with questions rather than conclusions. What opportunities am I missing every day just by minding my own business? Does it take a flash mob orchestra for me to look the person next to me on the train in the eye? The short answer is, probably, yes. I’m not particularly proud of it.
Still, no matter how we might resist, beauty continues to break into the world. There is meaning in the mundane, if we choose to see it. The God of orchestras is also the God of commuter trains and traffic jams and department meetings. If I can allow myself to be present in these things I might begin to see the ways in which He, too, is present. There is a great weight of custom, habit, and disposition pulling me constantly back into myself. How fortunate, then, that there is an even greater strength waiting to lift me back out.
I would encourage you as you move through your week—facing your routine, following the same tracks your life seems fixed on—to keep your eyes open, and tune your ears for unexpected music. You might be surprised by what you see and hear.
Special thanks to Marcus Goodyear for sending me the link to this video.