You may have seen this on social media over the last few years…

It was a cold, January morning and a man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 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, 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 without stopping and 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 hurried him along, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist.

Finally, the mother pushed harder 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 most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where 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?

1 reply
  1. Yormmy
    Yormmy says:

    Yeah Joshua Bell! I was so excited to read this as I’ve followed him for years and have quite a lot of his music on cd, computer and the MP3 player. It’s always good to see “normal” classical musicians. And amazing that he participated in the project. Yet, sadly, as I am well versed in the eccentricities and quirks of humanity, not surprising how little response he got. But it’s not important that he got so little response. It’s the ones who did SEE and did HEAR him. They took that with them all day. It made a mark, albeit a small one, but an important one in them that they’ll take with them always. Especially if they hear about the project and realize who and what they saw. Just another example to show us that the little things in life are are most important. Kudos to the post and to Joshua Bell for trying something different and to the people who did stop, listen and drop money in the case. And here’s hoping he does another song with Josh Groban. I don’t know how they could top ‘Mi Mancherai’ but if any two musicians could, it would be them.

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