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Friday, February 25, 2011

What Are You Missing?


In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.


No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest 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, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, then how many other things are we missing as we rush through life?


Kat Heckenbach said...

I'm going to add my own brand of cynicism here. If someone had recognized HIM, I bet people would have stopped. If someone had yelled, "Hey, that's Joshua Bell! The world-famous violinist!" people would have gathered like vultures. People too often need to be told that something is worthy before taking the time to appreciate it.

I could turn this into a rant about other art forms and the need for validation by "professionals" for people to be able to appreciate talent...but I won't ;).

Cool post, Amy. You find the neatest stuff to put on your blog!

Jane Lebak said...

I actually watched the video of his performance, and I honestly believe part of the problem was the music he picked to play. He picked some of the music that *musicians* believe is the most beautiful in the world and certainly the most violinistic. But it's not really something most Americans would pick to sit down and LISTEN to. It wasn't stuff we knew.

I mean, I love Joshua Bell and I love Bach and I love the violin. But I think Bell would have been better to play a five-star rendition of Yesterday than to be playing the Ciaccona.

I don't disagree that Americans are too busy and that we feel we need to schedule in beauty. But I don't think that experiment necessarily lends itself to the conclusions we draw from it.

Amy Deardon said...

Kat, it will happen. Your writing is GREAT STUFF. Thanks for the blog note -- I put up random stuff, but like to think it's thought-provoking and may uplift.

Philangelus, provocative comment as always. I hadn't thought of the music, but can't help agreeing that something familiar might have been more amenable. Hmmm.

will write soon

Jane Lebak said...

Amy, do you know if busking is illegal in Washington DC? Because that's a further complication. If people know it's illegal to play for money, they may be less likely to stop and listen.