Thursday, January 22, 2009

In a common setting what do we miss?

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

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and 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 and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man 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 tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head 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 the seats average $100.

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


  1. how many stopped to read this?

  2. me! I read the original post article too :) I also head about an ex-concert pianist in New York who keeps 4 baby grands in storage lockers around the city, he busts them out and sets them up in random locations and performs street concerts as his job. Pretty cool stuff.

  3. Awesome awesome awesome. Terrible and sad, but cool experiment. And the best/worst part is that the kids were the ones who stopped to listen. Soon they will be tugged away so many times that they learn not to stop. I have a friend who stops to look at EVERYTHING. He finds beauty in everything. Or maybe not beauty, but interest, something noteworthy. Put a musician in a concert hall where the listeners paid to listen and he is incredible. Put him in a busy subway station and he is a poor beggar with a violin; "get a job, lazy waste of space."
    Finding art in everything can be hard at first but Really easy and natural after practice. Or so I have found. Society teaches me that I am weird when I find everyday things beautiful. But I'm working to break through that. Great post Jeremiah.

  4. Jessica, finding beauty in everyday things doesn't make you weird, but beautiful and amazing. We need more people like you in the world. And more people like those little kids, like so many kids around the world that find amazement and beauty in everything. Thanks for the post Jeremiah, keep 'em coming!