There’s magic all around us

Would You Stop to Listen?

A man sat at a metro station in Washington, DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousand of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best 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 his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Credits: Joshua Bell experimented for Gene Weingarten’s story in The Washington Post: (Video by John W. Poole)

Your Turn


How might you “stop and listen” differently in your world today?

Mis-heard lyrics: The magic of mondegreens

‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy: The Magic of Mondegreens…


Ever sing a song aloud, certain you’re belting out the right lyrics, only to find out that you are signing the wrong words altogether?  You know what I’m talking about…

  • Imitating Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” you belt out…”‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy” (instead of the correct, “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky“)
  • At the end of each verse of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song, “Bad Moon Rising,” You find yourself singing, “There’s a bathroom on the right” (instead of the correct, “There’s a bad moon on the rise“)
  • Trying to sing  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version of “Blinded By The Light,” you don’t quite sing the intended lyrics, “Revved up like a deuce,” but instead you sing…er…well, you get the point by now

Did you know there’s a word for this comical mis-hearing of intended words? Yes, it’s mondegreen.

Mondegreen (MAHN-duh-green): A mishearing of song lyrics or popular phrases.

My first mondegreen

It was 1981, and my friend Tara Levy and I were listening to the radio at her house, when our favorite Philadelphia radio station announced the release of a new Rolling Stones song. We excitedly listened in and heard Mick Jagger belt out,

Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia an ever star.” 

Tara and I looked at each other, puzzled. What we didn’t realize was that he was actually signing “If you start me up. If you start me up I’ll never stop.”   Weeks later, when Tara and I learned the real words to the song, we laughed hard at our misinterpretation, and I realized a potential reason why we’d missed the real words. My father had just returned from Sarajevo (a city in the then-named country of Yugoslavia).  We had unknowingly primed ourselves to hear the word Yugoslavia in the song!

Origin of mondegreens

When author Siliva Wright was a child, she heard an old Scottish ballad called “The Bonnie Earl of Murray,” which includes the line,

“They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray / And laid him on the green.”

Alas, Wright misunderstood that line as

“They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray/And Lady Mondegreen.”

As a result, she spent years pitying poor Lady Mondegreen before she finally saw the lyrics in print. Writing about this in a 1954 Harper’s magazine article, Wright coined the term mondegreen to denote such words misheard.

Your turn

Now, see if you know the correct words for these two mondegreens:

  • ‘The girl with colitis goes by’ from the Beatles’ song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
  • “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” from a famous Elton John’ song

Do you have a mondegreen story?  Please share it! 

Just think, You kid help billed whirled peas…