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How Many Things Are You Missing?

January 16, 2009

violin

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 theater 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? Children seem to know when to stop and smell the roses.

I lifted this story from Jim Estill‘s blog comments. I’m not sure who left this story as a comment apart from the name Kevin with no link attached. But yes it’s a tough question – how many other things are we missing?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. John R permalink
    January 31, 2009 4:58 pm

    Had the unique opportunity to be present at the 56th inauguration of the the 44th president this month.

    As an avid photographer I took over a 1100 pictures. Not until I reviewed the photos did I realize one photo contained a single act of descent being expressed within the mass of people on the mall.

    A single male is standing on a road barrier with a placard raised above his head and facing in the opposite direction of all others around him with a stencil sign reading “Obama: Future War Criminal.”

    Don’t know how I missed it at the time, but it was as if it didn’t even register at the moment of capturing the image. It only had meaning and significance afterward. It is now titled “Lone Descent.”

    I wish I would have been able to hear Joshua Bell, but I too probably would not have realized fully what I was experiencing at the moment.

  2. Tim permalink*
    February 2, 2009 6:10 am

    Wow. The guy was certainly not afraid to be alone (and not afraid to go down in history as pessimist of the year). Of course I hope he’s not right.

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  1. Joshua Bell, Desiderata and Detroit « Bear’s Den

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