Monday, June 8, 2009


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 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?

To listen to a brief clip from Josh's subway concert, click THIS LINK.


Cat-in-Sydney said...

Masterwordsmith, I hope I fall into the latter group - noticing and can't help noticing more to the point of being called a busybody. Perhaps that's why most people chose to ignore, for fear of being called meddlers. The term "curiosity kills the cat" was certainly coined for a reason. meow meow meow....

masterwordsmith said...

Dear Cat-in-Sydney,

Excellent comment. People like us who are observant and caring must find the balance between timely helpfulness and deliberate detachment to preserve our sanity :-)..Take care and hope you got your fair share of treats last weekend:-)

Purrishly happy to get to know you!

Tiger said...

This really happened 2 years ago, and out of the thousands that passed him, only 1 woman actually recognised him.
Even then, she refused to believe it because she was wondering why and what he was doing there.
Shows you that most humans nowadays do not bother with others unless that person can help you in some way.

masterwordsmith said...

Hi Tiger,

Truly this scenario illustrates how one's prejudices can blind a person from seeing the value and worth of another and how many have become selfish in modern society...Sad indeed.

Take care and thanks for sharing.


Anonymous said...

Sadly, I would be one of those who would have just rushed by and not bothered to give him a second glance. *tsk tsk*

masterwordsmith said...

Hi Andrea,

Frankly, I would have just rushed through the metro cos I am always paranoid of muggers...Much as I would have paid attention to the music, I would not have stopped to look at his face :-).

Take care and thanks for your candid comment.