Somehow I missed this story when it came out (even though it won a Pulitzer), but today I came across it at random on of all places Jeff Bridges website who wrote a fantastic synopsis. The choice of venue is an arbitrary context in which we are of necessity "focused and in a hurry". Our experience /understanding / actions are influenced merely based on the brains ability to respond to the nearest logical memory of the past. This can be referred to as reactive living (humans live their entire life as just as a spontaneous reaction). Can we stop to smell the roses?
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...
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
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.
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.
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?
"No one knew it," explained Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten several months after the event, "but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made." Weingarted came up with the experiment to see how ordinary people would react.
And how did they react? For the most part, not at all.
Marketing surveys have pointed out that consumer perception of quality is based on packaging. Journalist Gene Weingarten was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his outstanding and thought provoking analysis of the experiment. Weingarten discusses the ramifications of Bell's subway experience. One 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? But it's equally fair to point out that there's an appropriatetime and place for everything, including classical music. Was such an experiment really necessary to determine that a busy subway platform during rush hour might not be conducive to an appreciation of the sublime? Probably not, though it makes for an interesting story just the same.