Jul 23, 2011

Posted by in Featured, Inspiring | 4 comments

What do we miss in life?

Last night I was walking down Cuba Street in Wellington around 11:30pm. The place was full of reveling groups with plenty to drink, but in the midst of it all, there was a trio of musicians playing two guitars and a violin very tunefully. Wellington has a collection of buskers, but none of them compare to this story from JeffBridges.com that came to me via The Long Now Foundation blog.

Joshua Bell playing violin

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 questions raised:

*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?

  1. I think the question is rhetorical at best :)

    Just because he’s one of the best in the world at his tiny field, doesn’t mean the vast majority of commuters will even recognise it for what it is. What percentage of the population could tell what music was being played, let alone what a $3.5m violin looks like? Beauty, and value, are very subjective.

    I wonder how the experiment would have gone in the park at lunch time. Or at a music festival. I suppose the concert is enough to make my point however. People can appreciate culture. I bet some of those same people walked through the metro…

    btw – nice new blog.

    • You’re right that almost all wouldn’t recognise the difficulty of the music or the value of the violin.

      The fact that so few stopped in the morning tells me people are rushing to get to their destination and they can’t or won’t spare one minute to enjoy some free music.

      A music festival is a place where people are looking for entertainment – he’d have had a good crowd and been appreciated. I hope the people who don’t take a breath while they’re commuting find time to go to things like that and relax.

      • I’m sure they do. Nobody wants to commute. They just want it to be over.

        I don’t understand it myself, which is why I work from home 😀

        • I’m taking the time on the way in to try and learn Mandarin, or watch TV on my laptop instead of in the evenings.

Reply to Nigel McNie