Posted by: forgingahead | July 29, 2009

A True Tale

In a Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.

The musician played six Bach pieces on his violin for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After 3 min. 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 min. later: The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the till 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, as 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. Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on.

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.

1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. [My Note: This isn’t true. One woman actually did recognize him.]

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 Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real 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 were: 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:

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?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The above story arrived in my email inbox a few days ago. It’s a summary of a wonderful article written by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post on August 7, 2007.

I know, I’m rather behind the times. What else is new.

If this summary resonates with you I strongly encourage you to read the entire article. Gene is a wonderful writer and the story is stunning. And sad.

This one brings tears to my eyes.



  1. I thought the more interesting thing abotu the article, when I read it, was that our conceptions of what is and is not good is defined by the context within which we hear/see it.

  2. I received that email awhile back and really liked it. One of the very few chain emails I passed on…but that was the first time I had read the article. Thank you for putting the link for that in there.

  3. Yes…it is easy to miss those beautiful things. Do we notice the beauty of every day when it is presented before us? I think: only if we chose to.

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