Monday, February 2, 2009

the violinist

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin on a cold December morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that a thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by before a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace, stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman, without stopping, threw the money into his violin case.

A few minutes later, a man listened to his playing for a moment, looked at his watch and walked on. Clearly he was late for work.

The person who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother dragged him along and the child walked on while turning his head from time to time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes that the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk on. He collected $32.

No one took notice when he finished playing. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the world's finest musicians. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each.

This is a true story.

Joshua Bell's "concert" incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post newspaper as part of a 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?

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


  1. Wow. I love this. I like social experiments like this. But I am kind of frustrated. I'd like to think I would have stopped and listened. Hmm, I wonder...???

    Stop and smell the roses...

  2. Like Tiff I'd love to think that I would have stopped if I was going somewhere by myself...but probably, if I was by myself I would have been wishing I could stop but probably wouldn't have time. However, if I had my kids with me I feel certain we would have stopped whether they wanted to or not, but especially if they wanted to. I hope that isn't arrogant, but I just know because we do stuff like this all the time. As a homeschooler who has to educate with a very tiny budget, I RELY on free educational opportunities and you have to take them when they present themselves, whether it's gifts of curriculum from friends, the library, or a musician on the street. I dream of exposing my kids to a huge variety of music, sports, historical sites, stuff like that.
    However, I wonder if I lived in a place like this where there are lots of people who play different musical styles and instruments in the subway, we'd be so used to it that it wasn't anything much different than you see lots of other days. It's unique to me because we live in the suburbs and no one plays music on the streets. ;)


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