Perceiving Beauty

This is another story I'm passing along from a fellow member of the Association of Personal Historians, Wendy Ledger: 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 hurried him along, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother insisted and the child began to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced the children 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. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. 

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most noted 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 playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the tickets 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 the general public. The precept was: in a commonplace environment at a random hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize  talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:  If we do not have a few moments to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

P.S. Here's a link to the Washington Post story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html

UncategorizedMike O'Krent