Why You Should Always Stop to Listen to Music

musicians all around us

Do you ever stop to listen to live music or are you too absorbed in your own life?

What music and beauty lies within you and around you that you are yet to discover?

“Music can change the world because it can change people” Bono

One of the things I love about where I live in London is that there is always so much going on in the summertime.

Last Sunday I spent most of the day at the annual Spanish festival which takes place on one of London’s busiest streets, Regents Street.

Then I went off to a Green Festival which showcased the latest ideas on being green – most of the ideas were novel and practical, but some were a bit whacky.

It was quite a full day with a crescendo of live music and other entertainment. But the best part of the day for me was actually on the way to the Spanish festival whilst I was still inside the London Underground train station.

At the bottom of the escalator, was a busker who was playing classic rock and pop tunes and when I got off the train, he was playing Penny Lane by the Beatles.

I am not a performing musician myself (as yet) but I can appreciate someone doing something well when I hear it – and this guy sounded pretty good to my uncultured ears.

What was even more pleasant to watch was how this guy was really enjoying himself. He seemed oblivious to the many train passengers who were simply hurrying past him in a frenzy of activity

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent”. Victor Hugo

Most of these passengers were clearly anxious to get somewhere fast and be anywhere but there, listening to some seemingly down and out guy bumping out old tunes.

I stood for a few moments and listened to the whole song before smiling at him and depositing a few coins on his guitar case. In return I got an appreciative nod and a smile.

What did strike me was how almost everyone else seemed oblivious to him. And yet for all they knew, this guy could have been the greatest guitarist in the world.

This reminded me of the famous story of master violinist Joshua Bell who once played his priceless violin at a train station in Washington DC.

This story has gone around for a while and some have even questioned its validity. However, it is an absolutely true story and you can read the shortened version here on Snopes.

If you prefer, you can read the detailed and award winning account from the Washington Post entitled “Pearls Before Breakfast”.

The Washington Post story has an appropriate quote:-

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare
” – W.H. Davies (Welsh poet)

Exactly – what is life if we don’t have time to stop, stare and enjoy the music and miracles all around us?

“Without music, life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche

So next time you are a in hurry and you hear some music, make a special point to stop and listen – you may just be listening to an impresario.

And if not, at least you will have given yourself a much needed break.

Life is too short – slow down and make time to listen to music.

Photo courtesy of MattJP

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  1. Street musicians are rare in our area, but I would love to listen to them. I really enjoy going to festivals where I can wander around and hear different kinds of music and see what resonates most with me. When I was reading your article I was thinking that quite often I will catch myself in the mornings and realize I have not been paying attention to the beautiful birds singing right outside my window. So, I need to be more aware of my own feathered street musicians 🙂

    • Jean, it’s clearly time you visited London – we are privileged to have so many street musicians.

      Until then, may you enjoy many more mornings of bird concerts outside your window:-)

  2. Claire - Gratitude Connection says

    I think coming across a street musician is like a little gift during the day, they always lift my spirits.

  3. We have street musicians here in Chania, but ours are a bit more … “colorful” to say the least. 😉

    My favorite is a guy who hangs out on a popular street corner. His guitar is a plastic child’s guitar that’s missing all but two strings. His “pick” is a comb that’s missing most of his teeth. He plays it like he’s Mick Jagger on stage before thousands.

    Every time G and I pass him, we smile. Music we don’t get, but sheer joy? Absolutely.

    • Chania girl, that guy just sounds like whayt I would be like, if I ever took up street busking!

      Music I will not create, but joy I shall certainly hope to spread:-)

  4. Sarah Loewen says

    I love this post an I loooove music. I just wanted to add that I think playing or making music is evern more joyful than listening – or at least on par. I started taking piano in January because U had purchsed s beautiful used acoustic piano for my daughter. I had no idea how much I would come to love it, and frankly I still suck. It just feels to good and its so nice to hear the music coming together into recognizable tunes!

    • Sarah, we all look forward to hearing you playing the piano at a concert soon – or maybe you can upload a video online:-)

      I have had a few guitar lessons in the past but soon got bored. Maybe a limiting belief but I thought I was tone deaf. So I now stick to the African drum – you just can’t go wrong with this!

  5. Justin Dupre says

    Some street musicians are really good. Good music is good music no matter where you are.. I should attend more of these festivals! Thanks for sharing.

    • Justin, welcome to my blog.

      In London there are some amazingly talented street musicians. So do visit London where we also have some great music festivals in the summertime.

  6. Arvind,

    This is great tip to remember, specially in summer. Where we live, during summer there are lot of free and fee based park concerts to enjoy for adults and kids. We like to go there with some snacks, juice and sit on grass, dance with music. I can not wait for it this summer to stop and listen to music, really listen! and enjoy without rushing to next to-do item.

    Thanks for reminding

  7. Gip @ So Much More Life says

    Around here, in at least one area, the street musicians are hired by the neighborhood organizers to create the right atmosphere. It works, but it is a strange thing to do.

    I try to smell the roses and listen to the birds, but live music always gets my attention. I love it when it is perfectly amazing, and I also like it when the performers are having a hard time holding it together. There’s something very inspiring about watching a performer or group of performers struggle through a performance that’s going strangely. There has to be a life lesson in there somewhere.

    I’ve been planning a post for my blog on live music as meditation. Maybe it’s about time I write it.

    Gip Plaster
    So Much More Life

    • Gip, welcome to my blog – I loved your own article about 4 tips for minimalists about commenting on blogs:-)

      You are priviliged that your neighbourhood organisers hire live musicians to create the right atmosphere.

      Here in London, some of the more talented street buskers do quite well in the summer months from the tourists. I reckon some of the best value entertainment in our city is in the streets of Covent Garden.

      For me too, listening to live music is up there with smelling the roses and listening to the birds.

      And yes, always inspiring to watch a group of musicians trying to hold it together! Not being a musician myself (as yet), I really admire anyone who can play an instrument – and especially in the public gaze.

  8. Arvind,
    Your post reminded me of something that happened at small jazz concert I attended over 10 years ago. A friend of mine, a college music professor, and his professor buddies started a jazz quartet. I attended a little concert they put together. I love jazz and really liked this professor so I was looking forward to it. I had no idea how deeply it would affect me though.

    While listening I saw on their faces, and felt so palpably, the joy that was emanating from these four that it hit me like a tsunami! All of sudden tears of joy were streaming down my face uncontrollably. I knew they were doing what they loved to do and it came through so clearly. I thought to myself, I want to do what I love and feel this type of joy in my life too.

    Music truly is a language all its own and does communicate deep emotions that are beyond words.

    Thank you for this inspiring post!

  9. Hi Arvind,

    I was in my local High Street a couple of weeks ago and there were some buskers playing what looked like pan pipes. This is the sort of thing I would usually have dismissed as lift music but I had a couple of minutes to spare so stopped. It only took moments to realise that not only were they very talented, but the music was actually beautiful.
    Excellent reminder to myself not to so so closed minded and I left feeling strangely relaxed and elated.
    Your description also suggests that listening to all types of music (even if you think it is not your thing) is a wonderful thing to do.
    Many thanks,

    • Kate, well done for taking the time to slow down and listening to “lift music”.

      The best classical music in the world should be played in lifts so that the phrase “lift music” loses its derogatory overtones.

      And yes I definitely think that listening to almost all types of music, even if you think it is not your thing, is a wonderful thing to do.

      I would however draw a line with heavy rock music, which to my ears just sounds like harsh noise. I have never quite understood the brave souls who listen to such loud music in confined spaces.

  10. Music has always been a huge part of my life. I love when songs are running through my head, even when no music is playing. I try to “tune in” and see what my soundtrack for the day sounds like and if it reflects what is really going on.

    I also think it is great to see people walking while listening to a ipod. You can almost tell what type of music they are listening to, by the swagger in their step!

    • Courtney, good to know that songs run through your head rather than anything more sinister:-)

      I have mixed thoughts about walking whilst listening to an Ipod as I find myself missing out on all the scenery and people around me. I really like to take in my surroundings especially when I am in a park.

  11. Thank you for the reminder Arvind.

    It is easier to move fast trying to keep up with the masses rushing in and out than to stop and enjoy the experience for a few minutes. It takes a mindful intention to stop and do it.

    There is so much beauty around us if we are willing to stop and take notice … even for a moment..

  12. John Sherry says

    Arvind a masterful piece. I find that music finds me from myself. I often break into songs I’ve not heard for many a year even though I’m not listening to any. It’s long lost music I’ve held inside now being released. Something deep within wants me to hear a message and it usually sparks some understanding or answer to a question that has taekn root. I’ve become a spiritual jukebox. As Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on!”.

    • John, spiritual jukebox!

      Next time we meet in person, you must do a rendition for me – we could even record it for your YouTube channel:-)

  13. HI Avind, Your description of LOndon in summer made me feel quite nostalgic..Here in New Zealand it is now winter & it was so cold last night I didnt just have the heater on all night but also had to leave my electric blanket on low just to be warm enough to sleep! Wimp hey !!!! London is an amazing city with the incredible architecture & such fantastic culture.. I paid £10 at the National to see Helen Mirren in ‘Phedra’ last year…. & yes the street music makes London alive & colourful. Its a wonderful place in summer especially…..

    • Yashu, it is only when I have visitors and I show them around London that I truly appreciate just how much London has to offer.

      There is so much going on now that summer has finally arrived.

      I empthasise with the winter you are having now – sounds just like what we endured 5 months ago, when the UK had its coldest winter for over 30 years.

    • Yashu, at least you have London to look forward to in a few weeks time in August.

      That’s peak time for London attractions so you can then leave behind memories of cold New Zealand then.

      Until then, keep warm!

  14. Hi Arvind, great post! I think music is transcends culture, language, etc. It unites people of all ages and generations. I think it’s a great way to communicate even without words.

    • Thanks Kat and welcome to my blog.

      Some of the best evenings I have enjoyed in London are world music concerts where even though I didn’t understand the lyrics, I felt great unity in the auditorium.

      Joy needs no language:-)

  15. Sibyl - alternaview says

    Arvind: Great post and great reminder. I think it is easy to fall into the trap of being so consumed in our thoughts and what we are doing, that we may overlook some of life’s greatest offerings and music is by all means one of them. I know for me that some of my best times have involved just sitting outside, relaxing and listening to some good music. Thanks for the great post.

    • Sibyl, welcome to the growing tribe of music listeners!

      May you have many more memorable days of just sitting outside, relaxing and listening to some great music:-)

  16. Arvind you have definitely struck a chord with this one… Seriously, the literal and figurative application of music to life is so powerful. It reminds me of David Weatherford’s poem Slow Dance (which I posted on ReadingForYourSuccess in honor of my mom on mother’s day). “Life is not a race. Do take it slower. Hear the music. Before the song is over.” Amazing words. I have a version of it framed and hanging right next to my front door.

    You know I was struck by some amazing talent last time I was in Covent Garden just strolling through with my family. There was this string group playing the most amazing version of Canon in D that I had heard. I sat, watched, smiled, clapped, donated to the cause and then bought one of their CD’s. I still have it on my iPhone. It was like time stopped. Stopping to hear the music is perfect therapy. Because are we really ever in too much of a hurry to not hear the end of that song? I doubt it.

    Thanks Arvind. Very well put!


    • Thanks Scott for sharing your personal story from Covent Garden – it’s high time you returned soon to London so we can go on our tour of musical hotspots around the city:-)

      I just checked out “Slow Dance” by David L. Weatherford and I love it. Thanks for sharing it:-

      Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
      or listened to rain slapping the ground?

      Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
      or gazed at the sun fading into the night?

      You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
      time is short, the music won’t last.

      Do you run through each day on the fly,
      when you ask “How are you?”, do you hear the reply?

      When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
      with the next hundred chores running through your head?

      You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
      time is short, the music won’t last.

      Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow,
      and in your haste, not see his sorrow?

      Ever lost touch, let a friendship die,
      ’cause you never had time to call and say hi?

      You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
      time is short, the music won’t last.

      When you run so fast to get somewhere,
      you miss half the fun of getting there.

      When you worry and hurry through your day,
      it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.

      Life isn’t a race, so take it slower,
      hear the music before your song is over.

  17. Hi Arvind, Your post evoked some great memories of musicians playing in the subway and in Harvard Square and downtown Boston when I lived and worked there. I never had a problem stopping to enjoy and get into the music. Sometimes the problem was remembering that I had to get back to work.

    And Seattle has some great outdoor music festivals which I really enjoyed when I lived there. Sadly, Southern Maryland–where my BF and I live now–is not noted for its music festivials.

  18. Anne Brandt Dias says

    Arvind, you touched me with this. Listening to the Beatles play on the roof was simply amazing. I love music and the Beatles were one of the best groups ever. Thank you for reminding us that we really should stop and listen to music. When I drove to work and back home, I comforted myself in the heavy traffic by listening to music – it so relaxed me. Music is what I will miss most when I leave this world, but maybe there will be music where I go….


    • Anne, yes for me too the Beatles were the best ever.

      And I am sure there will be even more heavenly music wherever we all go after this world:-)

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