Violinist in the Metro

This is an incredibly sad story which gave me chills. It is a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people.

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.

Violinist in the metroIn 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.

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?

My additional thoughts would only be that so many people do things because they are “fashionable” that they forget to look at things with their own eyes, listen with their own ears, and appreciate anything with their own hearts.


416 Responses to “Violinist in the Metro”

  1. Author:

    I’ve seen this several times, and each time I read it, I wonder: So what can we do about it? It’s not that we don’t want to stop and appreciate beautiful things.
    Most of us are slaves to a time clock that won’t let us change our schedules to appreciate beautiful things. We did this to ourselves when we voted for a government to force us to maintain a standard of living, educate our children, and pay taxes to keep an army and provide other services. We have to pay penalties for not doing so, sometimes heavy ones, like going to jail. Notice how much emphasis was put on parents who wouldn’t let their children stop and listen. In their defense, parents of young children are the most put-upon people in the US. Not old enough to have enough money to retire, they are strapped trying to meet all the requirements put on them by the educational system, laws concerning safety and proper care for children, their jobs (so they can pay the bills these demands garner), and all the variables that weather, sickness and life with minor-age children brings with it. Do you realize how many laws concerning young children govern the lives of parents? Yes, it’s not without a good reason that all a parent thinks about is getting from point A to point B without having a breakdown physically, emotionally, mentally or vehically… If you stop long enough to dream, you realize how much you are missing and that could contribute to a total crash of your house of cards…
    When our society learns to survive without punching a clock, then we’ll have time for beauty. We could live like people in third world countries. They enjoy beauty – read any writings by missionaries to those countries. In places like Mexico, Bolivia and other poor South American countries, the men take jobs long enough to earn a few weeks pay, then go home for awhile when they get tired. American employers complain of their work ethic, and have no legal recourse when the men do them that way, but they still build their factories in those places because labor is so cheap.
    Sad, isn’t it? Yes, to stop and smell the roses generally means you’re too poor to do anything else.

  2. Author:

    [...] The art of live performance is one that is often over-looked, we have all read the story about the ignored busker who in fact was actually one of the¬†world’s most respected musicians and this is one of the reasons Melbourne is so wonderful, we love live music. We love our buskers [...]

  3. Author:

    x posting my comment on a link to this from facebook.

    Bach is one of my favorite classical composers. But if I was on my way to work I wouldn’t want to lose my job just to watch someone play violin, famous/million dollar violin or not. I don’t think that “experiment” was well thought out. If he’d done this in a park or a mall I think the result would have been significantly different.

  4. 32$ for 45 minutes ? I’m not paid that much !

  5. Author:

    Or maybe most people just don’t want to pay attention.

  6. Author:

    maybe most people dont give a sh*t about violin music? maybe delivery is part of it, maybe he should switch to guitar. maybe he should stick to his fancy ass halls playing for fancy ass bigots

    • Author:

      Brian … You’re the downfall of America. Congrats your parents must be very proud.

    • Author:

      who say that good music was only for the fancy and rich people if we that recognice good music , well thats our problem and dont say stuff like that to cover your ingorance.

  7. Author:

    Blah blah blah to the naysayers that are posting with “but they were on their way to work,” “it was rush hour” or “no one knew who Bell was.” That doesn’t change the crux of the story-and makes the point of the story even truer.
    If modern life is incumbent on developing tunnel-vision to the point that we don’t notice the things around us that can make our lives more rewarding–then what point is this modern life?

  8. Author:

    How do you know the commuters didn’t appreciated his playing? Their was no follow up, nobody asked the communters if they enjoyed it. When I hear musicians at the train station I don’t stop because I have to be somewhere (usually work), but they usually put a smile on my face and give me a happier outlook for the day. Plus it was during rush hour, if someone randomly stopped it would halt eveyone else and piss off everyone behind them.
    Just because they didn’t stop and listen doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy it, they had a schedule to keep. The children stopped because they have no responsibilities.
    plus everyone has different taste in music.

  9. Author:

    I guess more people should approach “strangers”.

  10. Author:

    I agree with Richard Drew that playing during the morning rush was a bad idea to begin with. people don’t have time to stop and listen. Also, the whole talk about beauty of the music doesn’t take into account that people who don’t listen to violin music (i would say the majority) cannot tell the difference between one of the best violinists in the world and an everyday street musician that is talented on his instrument of choice. none of them would know whether it was some “intricate piece” or 3.5 million dollar violin. this whole experiment just seems like it was done just so they can publish it and make it into some “crisis in humanity” thing.

  11. Author:

    Oh my… this gave me chills! So… scary for humanity

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