Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A violinist in the subway

You gotta read this story (Source: blog by Egodialogues). She writes this is an incredibly sad story which gave me chills. It is a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people.

A man stood 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 tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. 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 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 it.
No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best 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 his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

For much more detail on this story, go to the April 8, 2009 Washington Post article "Pearls before Breakfast.


RunninL8 said...

Stop and smell the roses....for what is life?!

honeypiehorse said...

More like Pearls before swine. People don't value what they don't have to pay for. Most of them would have been thrilled to pay $50 for ticket to see a much lesser performer.

Kitchen Sister said...

or it has to do with ear. Some very few people can hear the difference between an amazing violinist on an amazing violin and a decent violinist on a decent violin. The rest of us (I'd argue a vast majority) are fakes and rely on other people's opinions to rate our values. Most people don't expect a virtuoso on the subway playing for spare change. Most people judge the value of things not by their own gut but by the consensus of their peers or the authorities in the matter, or when it comes down to it, the price other people are willing to pay for it.

When my boyfriend and I listen to music, he can pick out the individual players and critique their musicianship and style, and the cohesiveness of the group. I can tell him whether or not I want to dance to it, which is as much dependent on the number of beers I have had as it is on the bass line and syncopation.

In entirely different news, I went the the "Edgar O. Wilson Inaugural Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Awards" tonight. Good food, world renowned scientists, the forum/seminar earlier in the day probably would have been better. No-shows (recipients delaying until next year) include Mandelbrot (of the fractals) and Jane Lubchenco (our new NOAA lady). One of the honorees said, "to be called a naturalist is a true honor. Naturalists are the future (something something something good)." I thought of you.

Naturelady said...

KS- shucks, I'm really touched!