Can you Recognize World Class Talent? Do you Care?

Is great art only found in art galleries? Are musicians only brilliant if we see them in expensive concert halls? Can we only appreciate Olympic class athletes at world class athletic events? Do we have to see great talent in a particular setting or location in order to recognize that just how amazing that person’s skills are?

Undiscovered Thai Guitar VirtuosoIn a previous post I wrote about an amazing guitarist I stumbled upon in a grungy bar in Thailand. I saw him play for two nights and managed to record about 15 minutes of his guitar solos. You might not like guitar or the style of music he plays, but I think his video is worth watching. This particular guitarist has put in thousands and thousands of hours of practice to master his art. That deserves some respect and admiration.



Before you watch the video, please read these excerpts from a Washington Post experiment with one of the best concert musicians in the world.

The Busker with the $3.5 Million Dollar Violin

The Washington Post arranged for concert violinist Joshua Bell to play his multi-million dollar violin in a Washington, D.C. subway at morning rush hour “as a test of whether, in an incongruous context, ordinary people would recognize genius.” It is a fantastic article and definitely worth reading in it’s entirety, but here are some excerpts.

On Friday, January 12, the people waiting in the lottery line looking for a long shot would get a lucky break — a free, close-up ticket to a concert by one of the world’s most famous musicians — but only if they were of a mind to take note.

Bell decided to begin with “Chaconne” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Bell calls it “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect. Plus, it was written for a solo violin, so I won’t be cheating with some half-assed version.”

“It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” Furukawa says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn’t do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?”

If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?

Undiscovered Thai Guitar Virtuoso

Here is the the video.

 Am I Insane?

Is this guitarist anywhere as good as I think he is? Or am I clueless idealist that plays too much guitar? Please let me know in the comments.

Enjoy the Article?

Go ahead, you know you want to! :-)

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

14 Responses to Can you Recognize World Class Talent? Do you Care?

  1. I guess it just goes to show that most of us don’t recognize talent or value until someone tells us so. That’s why there’s branding and advertising.

    • John says:

      Hi Roy,

      The Washington Post article suggests that it is particularly an American problem. Do you think that is the case?

      The problem for me is that our culture is becoming so homogenized. It is very difficult for someone that is unique or new to make any decent money with their art. It seems that consumers only want the same regurgitated formulas over and over again.

  2. Greg Rollett says:

    Talented, yes. Without a doubt.

    Commercially viable, or reason alone for him to be successful as a musician; unfortunately not.

    I’ve been doing a lot of work in the people buying people space and it can be summed up in one sentence: people buy from you because of who you are, not what you do.

    Some purists might think that a bit harsh, but it’s the truth. I have no idea what the goals and aspirations of this guitarist are, but if his goal is to make a living or become a star playing music, he needs to shift his efforts from the talent of playing guitar (he’s got that down) and channel it into personality driven marketing. Make people care about the guitar solos. Create a movement behind them. Or adapt and quote unquote “sellout” and make music that is more universally appealing.

    For the record, he is a sick guitar player. I take nothing away from his ability to shred like a true marksman, just that this alone is not enough today.

    • John says:

      Hi Greg,
      Thanks for the comment.
      Sadly, I agree that his music is not commercially viable. I realize that his style of music is not for everyone, but he is so damn good. 🙂

      I’m a little torn on the ‘selling out’ part. It is a given that you have to make stuff that people want to buy, That makes sense. If he only plays a style of music that no one likes, then it is no surprise that few people watch him play.

      The problem is that selling out, really means dumbing down to some common denominator level of mediocrity. There is no doubt that this guitarist could make much more money playing 70s cover tunes for old farts in an expensive hotel. However, then he wouldn’t be an artist anymore.

      Do you know any bands looking for a genius guitarist? I would love to see this guy reach a bigger audience. 🙂

  3. Hey John, nice post. The article doesn’t surprise me, people heading to work not paying attention, or heading home; plus if it’s not their genre of music they are not going to care. The guitar player in your video is awesome, I also like the JetSetCitizen effects at the beginning.

    Maybe the guy is cool being who he is, does he want to be famous? He’s Thai after all, and in my experience Thais could care less about fame and fortune, they’re just not wired that way.

    Think about this for a minute, the most talented guitar player may have never even tried playing a guitar in his whole life.

    How many garbage blogs are there that earn tons of money? How many bad “singers”, and “musicians” are rich and famous? It has nothing to do with the best, or what’s good most of the time; it’s more about what the marketing machine is pushing today, right (as others have said).

    There’s this rock band that plays 70s, 80s, 90s cover songs in Pattaya, at a corner bar at the Made in Thailand complex off 2nd Rd (and about Soi 9). I like watching them, but I’m usually the only one, maybe a few other people from time to time. They aren’t great, but I just like that they’re trying.

    I’ll be in Bangkok in a few days, and Chang Mai later in the week if you’re still there.

    • John says:

      Hi, Thanks for the comment.

      To me there are a few issues here.
      1. Heading to work. I understand that people are busy, but taking a few minutes to enjoy something beautiful doesn’t seem to be such a major sacrifice to me. If we can’t take a few moments out of our days to connect with another human clearly doing amazing things, then what is the point of living? Should we all be corporate drones rushing to our next appointment. Even the people waiting in the lottery line couldn’t be bothered to turn around, and they were waiting there anyway.
      2. What is beauty? I am not a big soccer, ballet, figure skating or sumo fan. However, watching people at the top of their field is an amazing experience. It is not hard to see the talent when it is world class. Perhaps this is predominantly an American problem like the Washington post article suggests? Maybe Americans are too focused on mindless consumerism and pop culture to appreciate anything really authentic? I definitely think there would be bigger audiences in Europe and particularly Japan, because normal people have a greater appreciation of art and talent.
      3. Marketing. I understand what you are saying. The best promoted wins, not the best talent. I am okay with that. However, the guitarist in Thailand plays in a popular bar area. There were 30 or 40 drunk and stoned backpackers outside this bar watching the nightly fire stick spinning. A few people popped into the bar to see the band because they could hear it was something good, but almost all quickly left. You might not like classical music, but how could you not be in awe of a performance by Joshua Bell? That is completely unfathomable to me. The same goes for this Thai guitarist although to a slightly lessor degree.

      I’m back in Canada now for most of the summer but I will be back in Chiang Mai later in the year.

      • I’m not saying it’s right, it’s just a majority of Americans these days. You’re talking about a country where most people are okay with only taking off 2-4 weeks a year from their corporate jobs! Most people have more allegiance to the corporation they work for than to themselves, but that’s what happens when you’re up to your eyeballs in debt…2 leased high-end cars, 4-5 bedroom house with swimming pool, and every gadget that exists. America’s love affair with consumerism is sickening, the marketing machine has it’s claws deeply imbedded, and because so few American’s travel they never get a chance to get any perspective.

        • John says:

          Thanks for continuing the conversation.
          Consumerism is still a tough issue for me. I can no longer buy many physical things, solely because I don’t have a place to keep them. A travel lifestyle is a great way to cut your consumption.

          However, there are physical possessions that make our lives better. I can’t swim to a foreign country. I don’t want to wash my clothes by hand. A refrigerator and air conditioner go a long way to improving the quality of my life.

          At the same time, consumption in the west is obviously insanely out of balance. Where do we draw the line between necessity and needless want?

          • My pleasure…I think the West is beyond help at this point. It is going to take an economic crash where people no longer have access to credit, or gobs of it to correct the situation. I can sympathize with those not wanting to see the expansion of the Western world to their countries; many Westerners have all the worldly possessions one could want, and they are still miserable. You would think at some point more people would realize it’s about quality of life and not about how many things you own, and how much money you make. I actually think many Westerners do realize this, but it’s hard to break from the trend, unless everyone is willing to go with you, or else you risk being the only fish swimming up stream, and that can be tough. The consumerism movement has gained so much momentum in the West it will only continue to get worse until it breaks, which eventually it will…it can’t be sustained forever, it’s simple math.

          • John says:

            I definitely agree. The US is very entrepreneurial, but it’s society is a basket case. No universal health care, a failing education system, overly processed food, the obesity epidemic, excessive pharmaceutical use and a whole host of the other problems are going to keep compounding to a crisis point. Canada and other western countries are not far behind.

            One great thing about living abroad is that you get a completely different perspective of life. In most non-English speaking countries all restaurants and food stands sell real, fresh made food. Nothing is processed. Families have dinner together every day. Time is made for meetings with friends. The pace of life is slow and people are not obsessed with making as much money as they can. Those basic things are missing from places like the US, Canada, Australia and the U.K.

            I think our so called modern societies can learn a lot from the rest of the world. What good is progress and productivity when you are too busy to enjoy your life or spend meaningful time with family and friends?

  4. You hit a lot of nails on the head…unless I cook every meal for myself I can’t find anything that doesn’t come out of a bag to eat. Last January when I got an annual physical with blood work the bill came to $1k. I had a friend who was getting migraines for a few weeks, went to the hospital for an hour and walked out with a $12k bill. Local governments are going broke, city workers are taking pay cuts, educational programs are being cut, while retired fire and police offers are making more in retirement than they were making when they were working. Nobody wants to pay more in taxes, I could care less if it meant a better standard of living, the problem is all of our tax dollars go to the “war for peace”. I’ll stop there….funny how a thread about guitar player in Thailand led us to this conversation : ) Either way, I don’t have to deal with any of that right now, I have food carts galore outside my door, I can swim year round outdoors, I can go to the hospital to get checked out without giving up my life savings…that’s just the tip of the iceberg, what’s not to love about Thailand?

  5. Sergio Felix says:

    Well, that’s for sure a very talented guitarist indeed.

    The song they are playing is called “Far Beyond The Sun” by Yngwie Malmsteen and it’s a really hard to play song.

    I didn’t know you could find this kind of music in a Thai bar, this rocks man! (pun intended lol)


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