In the Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about forty-five minutes. During that time approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After three minutes, a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds before hurrying to meet his schedule.
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat, and without stopping, continued to walk.
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
A three 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 as 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.
The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of thirty-two dollars.
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 the metro station performance, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where each seat averaged one-hundred dollars.
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 commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
Do we stop to appreciate it?
Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
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?