Friday, October 09, 2009

he was playin' real good, for free...

A man sat at a metro station in Washington, DC and started to play the violin. It was a cold January morning in 2007. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands 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 a 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 hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

In the
45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and listened for a while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest 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 Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true 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 people's priorities. The questions raised in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever many other things are we missing?


Mrs. L said...

How about we let the first violin in a hometown orchestra perform at Carnegie Hall pretending he was a famous European musician.

Would anybody notice that the emperor had no clothes.

Chris said...

Very impressive experiment. I missed that when it came out so I'm glad you posted it. As a former musician I would hope I would notice the beauty although probably wouldn't have recognized the artist or known the particulars of his instrument.

Melissa said...

I read this somewhere once and I was as "strirred" by it then as I am now. We walk by such wonders everyday and pay them no notice. I keep reminding myself that I need to live in the absolute "now" of my life. This reminds me again in a very real way. Thanks for posting it.