Friday, January 16, 2009


From the Washington Post:

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold December morning. In the next 45 minutes, he played six pieces by Bach. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that roughly 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 there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, 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 without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, a man leaned against the wall to listen to the violinist, but then 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 tugged him along and tried to hurry him, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head to look back 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 ticket prices averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post 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?

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?


The Nisbets said...

scary sometimes how much we think alike. I too, received this email and was thinking of putting it on the blog. Love you.

Melanie said...

Hi Goat....

Nice hmmmm. Posting. I can't really say how the world perceives beauty. I live in NYC, perhaps one of the fastest-paced cities in the world. We are lucky in that the city is fast but the traffic slows you down, so NY is a walking city and that puts you right up against this miracle of every-day. I think that the battle against complacency and ennui can be won if every seeker- people like you and I, if I may be so bold, just grab someone's hand, who may be too preoccupied with the every day and a butterfly on a parking meter or a fantastic street-ensemble and say to them...."look."

goat said...

i couldn't agree more! I was driving home the other day, (salt lake it not a 'walking city') and saw a small flock of quail cross the road. made me smile!