A man standing at a metro station in Washington, DC and started to play the violin on 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 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 a musician playing.  He slowed his pace, stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to stay on schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip as a woman threw the money in the till and, without stopping, continued to walk.

A few minutes later, a gentleman leaned against the wall to listen to him but then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

A three year-old boy stopped to look at the violinist and would have stayed longer to listen had it not been for his mother who hurried him along; the boy walked away, looking over his shoulder the whole time, continuing to gaze at the musician.  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 six people stopped and stayed for a while.  About 20 gave him money, as they continued to walk their normal pace.  In total, he collected $32.  When he finished playing, silence took over and no one applauded.

No one knew but the violinist that cold January morning was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in all the world.  He had just played some of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin that was hand-crafted in 1713 and worth $3.5 million dollars.  Two days before he played in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where 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 the priorities of people.  The take-aways by The Post were:

  • In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
  • Do we stop to appreciate it?
  • Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

So here’s to the beauty around us today.

(Above story found all over the internet as reported in the Washington Post in April 2007.  To see a video of Bell playing in the metro station, click Here!)

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