A man sat 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
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 averaged $100.
Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by
the Washington Post as part of a 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
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?