A Violinist in the Metro

A man sat at a Metro station in Washington, D.C. 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 on 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 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?

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13 thoughts on “A Violinist in the Metro

  1. This is an interesting post. It could even been seen as a human science laboratory. If these people had known he was a famous musician, they would have taken the time to stop and pay attention but I am still not sure they’d have actually listened to his art, they’d have only been captivated by the fact they were facing somebody famous. In other words, they’d have fed their own ego. Interesting reverse psychology.
    I am afraid my own behaviour would have been the same as most of these people.

  2. This is an awesome post… so often we are so busy within ourselves that we forget to see the beauty that takes place around us…

    I am so glad that I moved to Cape Town…. often I find myself staring at the mountain, or some beautiful piece of greenery, and just being extremely grateful that I am here… in this place… where I can enjoy the moment, the time…

  3. That is fascinating. I’m really impressed with Joshua Bell for participating in such an experiment and risking his violin to the grit and dirt of a metro station, which I’m sure is really quite bad for string instruments.
    This is an extraordinary experiment, but sad to say, I’m not very surprised at the result… We’re creatures of habit and routine and we probably miss out on a hundred things each day because we hurry, we rush, we worry about being late and don’t stop to appreciate things.

  4. I read about this story when it first happened and was absolutely flabbergasted. I can’t over talk over a musician at a concert, much less completely ignore them.

    But I’m predisposed to love and appreciate music and musicians. If this guy had been Picasso, I probably would have walked right past him.

    You’re right, we should take more time for beauty; thanks for sharing this.

  5. I have to agree with SI. We are in such a hurry to get where we’re going and I’m sure they are many, many things we miss out on just because it’s our “habit” to “get where we are going.” I loved reading this, it was a terrific post.

  6. Glad you all enjoyed it, what you all so is so true although I am a sucker for any kind of art be it music or paint and ten to one you’ll lose me in the crowd because I always seem to get captivated.

    Don’t know why but I more often than not like to throw a few coins in for these guys because they are doing what they love best and if you ask them their story normally its a fascinating one… mind I tried to get a mime guy to tell his once and he just went eek eek hmph

  7. I always MAKE time for what I’m interested in. I figure this life will be the only time to do the things I’m (currently) interested in.

    You know… $32 in 45 minutes is pretty good pay. So who gets to keep the $$$?

  8. I loved it. this jumped out at me: it was the children that still knew how to play and enjoy life.

    I’m supposed to teach a series on writing our own “bucket list” in early February and that is one of the things I’m hoping to bring people back to, when they were children, they instinctively knew how to have fun, play, enjoy life…when we get “old” life has a way of robbing us of that ability (not always…looking @ Sanityfound 😉 here but most of the time.

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