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that Shopping piece

✨ Because we all know where home is (from the first three-fourths of this marvellously enjoyable video below)

✨ It’s about how many shining eyes I have around me

“But when you played that Shopping piece…”


Think of it! Sixteen hundred people –busy people; involved in all sorts of different things– listening, understanding, and being moved by a piece by Chopin.

Now, that is something!

Am I sure that every single person followed that, understood it, was moved by it? Of course I can’t be sure! But I’ll tell you what happened to me.

I was in Ireland, during the Troubles, ten years ago, and I was working with some Catholic and Protestant kids on conflict resolution, and I did this with them [what you are about to see and feel]. Tricky… risky thing to do; ’cause they were street kids!

And one of them came to me the next morning, and he said,
“You know, I’ve never listened to classical music in my life,
but when you played that Shopping piece…”
He said, “My brother was shot last year, and I didn’t cry for him. But last night, when you played that piece, he was the one I was thinking about. And I felt the tears streaming down my face, and you know it felt
really good to cry for my brother.”

So I made up my mind, at that moment, that classical music is for. Everybody.


Now, how would you walk…
–because you know, my profession, the music profession, doesn’t see it that way; they say three percent of the population likes classical music; if only we could move it to four percent, our problems would be over–
I say:
How would you walk? How would you talk? How would you be? If you thought…

([mumblingly regressing and obsessing] Three percent of the population likes classical music… If only we could move it to four percent…)

How would you Walk?
How would you Talk?
How would you Be?
If you thought…


They just haven’t found out about it yet!

See, these are totally different worlds.

Now. I had an amazing experience.

I was forty-five years old, I’d been conducting for twenty years, and I suddenly had a realization:
The conductor of the orchestra doesn’t make a sound! My picture appears in front of the CD [silently strikes some of his hilariously exuberant conducting poses; laughter in the audience], but the conductor doesn’t make a sound.
He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful.
And that changed everything for me. It was totally life-changing!
People in my orchestra came up to me and said, “Ben, what happened?”

That’s what happened: I realized:
my job was to awaken possibility in other people.
And of course I wanted to know whether I was doing that.

And you know how I found out?

You look at the eyes. [Enthusiastically walks around the audience, stooping and looking into their eyes.] If the eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it…
[Stops and touches the shoulders and face of a man] You could light up a village with this guy’s eyes!
Right. So, if you… If the eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it.

If the eyes are not shining,
you get to ask a question.
And this is the question:
“Who am I being, that my players’ eyes are not shining?”
You can do that with our children, too:
“Who am I being, that my children’s eyes are not shining?”

That’s a totally different world.

Now, we’re all about to end this magical on-the-mountain week, and we’re going back into the world. And I say, it’s appropriate for us to ask the question:
“Who are we being, as we go back out into the world?”

And you know? I have a definition of success.
For me, it’s very simple.
It’s not about wealth and fame and power;
it’s about how many shining
eyes I have around me.

So now, I have one last thought, which is that
really makes a difference, what we say…
the words that come out of our mouth…

I learned this from a woman who survived Auschwitz; one of the rare survivors.
She went to Auschwitz when she was fifteen years old, and… ehm; her brother was eight.
And the parents were lost.
And she told me this; she said,

We were in the train, going to Auschwitz.
And I looked down and I saw my brother’s shoes were missing. And I said,
‘Why are you so STUPID! Can’t you keep your things together?!? For goodness sake!!!’
the way an elder sister might speak to a younger brother.”

Unfortunately it was the last thing she ever said to him,
’cause she never saw him again.
He did not survive.
And so when she came out of Auschwitz, she made a vow.
She told me this; she said,

I walked out of Auschwitz into life, and I made a vow, and the vow was:
I will never say anything
that couldn’t stand
as the last thing I ever say.”

Now. Can we do that?
No, and we’ll make
ourselves wrong,
and others wrong,
but it is a possibility
to live into.

Thank you.

[Applause; audience stand up and applaud enthusiastically]

Shining eyes…

Shining eyes…

[Deeply moved] Thank you…

Benjamin Zander transcribed by Leon Hieros