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Friday, January 30, 2009

Stop....And Hear The Music

A Violinist in the Metro

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 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 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 into the violin case 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 three year old boy. His mother tugged him along, hurrying, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pulled 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 six 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 theatre in Boston and the seats 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?

May you spot life's many beautiful moments. And may you stop and enjoy them.

P.S. I was hoping to embed a link to a YouTube clip of the actual experiment but I've forgotten how - and I don't have the time to investigate. So, if you wish to see/hear it, a search within youtube for 'Joshua Bell subway video' will pull up a list of options.


Fusion said...

Amazing. People don't notice the beauty all around them way too often, I guess we're all too busy running around like crazy to stop and smell the roses these days.

When I was living in Melbourne I would stop and watch the artist chalk painting on the sidewalk, or the street performers with their acts, or listen to the musicians playing. But I had no schedule to keep then, and maybe that was the difference.

sophie n said...


that's so crazy...

it made me think how smart children are and how we don't give them enough credit...

or is it that their minds are less occupied with worries of adult life that they can stop and "smell the roses"?


nonetheless, cool story!!

Loving Annie said...

Very wise post. I hope I spot the beautiful moments - no matter what the time or situation.

Gillette said...

I read this before...sure makes one think and stop even more, yes? It's fun to think of all the treasures there for the taking if we only open our eyes and ears.

Thanks for the opportunity to read this again..and hope all is well with you!

Anonymous said...

oh fiona! what a lovely, lovely piece. thanks for sharing -- i hadn't heard.

when i first began reading i was immediately drawn back to the days when i would take the "el" downtown and was always delighted by the street musicians. there's nothing quite like hearing a sax beaconing from a subway tunnel.

i think this is an exemplary study in perceptions. shame on us and our damned society that values $$$$ and anything with cache value.

i'm going to highlight this post on mine. hope you don't mind.

take care and good to hear you...

Lamps said...

The incident is interesting. But i have a different viewpoint. As you said, no one, who walk passed away, knew Bell. Secondly, taste for classical music like Bach. A large number of people - specially the younger ones, takes time to develop it. So, why stop to listen to an ordinary street musician playing just 'something'!!. The few persons, attempted to listen (or knows /listens Bach pieces), probably got 'confused' and fought with themselves to stay back with quality of music they are hearing.

Well, children always gets attracted with any performing act on road. People who comes to paid concert comprises of two categories: 1) people know or loves a particular music and 2) people, who after going back, tell others they have the honor of listening a particular performer.

Therefore, I do not find a relevance of those people not stopping for a moment and missing a beauty - as, appreciating at least this kind of beauty, requires a prior taste and knowledge.

Don said...

Well, to be fair to the commuters, I'm guessing that the DC Metro isn't the most conducive listening environment, particularly during rush hour. But yes, not only do many of use fail to notice the beauty that's all around us, we also fail to notice the talent that's among us. Perhaps the most wasted resource in history is human talent and ability.

Anonymous said...

We just don't stop and listen enough, do we? What an incredible story. Just enlightening!

Sunny Delight said...

Regardless of the 'why' of people not stopping, with articles like this published, after reading, it may make a few of us once again remember to take the time to stop, look, listen, and soak up the beauty our world is filled with. Thank you.

Mayden' s Voyage said...

This was profoundly beautiful and echos what's in my heart about being "Awake" in our lives. It's so difficult sometimes to lift our selves above the fog of the mundane, the clatter in our ears, and visual distractions of trash advertising and find what is beautiful and has meaning.

Yet, what we seek, we will find.

Here's to being open to beauty, and goodness, and of course- Love.

Mark said...

This is a great story! Thanks for sharing how easy it is for us to miss the moments in life. It also demonstrates that we pay for that which we perceive value and forgo that which is free because we do not perceive value in free.

S'mee said...

Considering my financial situation, and being able to earn about $50 an hour. Should I take up the violin? Or did I miss the point?

Nice to be back Fi ;-) XXX


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