Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Violinist on the Subway

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007: The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

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

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

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 all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

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.

1 hour: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 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. This is a true 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 people's priorities. The question is: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? 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.... How many other things are we missing?
Note: The photo included in this post is the one that I received in the email telling this story. The photo is not mine, and I do not know of it's origins to properly credit the source. If you are the source, I am happy to give you photo credit!


  1. whoa- Joshua Bell in the subway?! Dang. I wonder what I would do. Because I don't live in cities- when I hear people playing- I almost always stop to listen (but usually don't give $)- but if I lived in a city with music often- I'll bet I wouldn't even notice. sigh.

  2. I've seen this article before. At my metro stop, there is a couple that is often (at least monthly) outside the metro in the mornings. They are very clearly trained and not the random person looking for money.

    The thing is, when I am getting on/off the metro, I am always GOING someplace- work or home. Yeah, its cool to hear/see the music, but they can't truly expect everyone to stop and listen for their whole "set." I listen as I pass and it puts a smile on my face, but no matter how good the performer is, I don't stop and listen to the whole thing daily.

    I don't think that giving money or physically stopping would be a good measure of whether or not the music is heard and appreciated. Because it is. I do notice it. It starts my day off with a smile.

  3. I just read this article about a month ago! Isn't that crazy???

  4. What a wonderful story!! I have not heard this but I loved it!! Thank you so much for posting. Btw, I am new to your blog and falling instantly in love :) I joined you as a follower. Stop by and see me some time!


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