March 05, 2010

Perception: Do You Stop and Smell the Roses, or Listen to the Music?

Someone emailed this to me and I thought it worth repeating.

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. Christine...hope you won't mind. I am going to post this in it's entirety. It touches close to a post of mind the other day.
    hugs Karin
    Oh BTW I will be including a link back to you.

  2. I heard about that experiment. Another thing I thought was interesting was they also wondered about the fame thing in relation to this...had it been more known that it was someone renowned would more people have paid attention. And what does that say about how easily we're led to believe someone's talented who might not be. It's all very fascinating. And a good reminder we move way too fast most of the time. Need to stop a little more!

  3. Now that is a sad testimony to human behavior...

  4. I'm so happy to say that when I was in Florence, IT last fall, I was wandering towards the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery and heard a classical guitar being played. Discovered it was a guy sitting on the curb and so I sat down and listened til he had finished that piece. Left him a couple Euros which was small pay. It was lovely (well, everything in Florence was!) and a very pleasant interlude.

    I think Courtney raised a very valid point - had people known he was Joshua Bell, you would not have been able to get near him.

    What made me saddest of all in that story is the parents not allowing the children to pause even for a few seconds. I'm sure the main reason for that was they felt that then they would have to throw money in the case.

    If I can find it, I'll come back and post a link to music at the Brussels train station and what happened there. It is truly heartwarming!

    Mary Lynne

  5. And I did find it only it was Antwerp, not Brussels. Anyway, here's the link:

    and it is well worth a visit!

    Mary Lynne


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