Ponder this:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Situation

At a Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about forty-five minutes.  During that time, approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After about three minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried on to meet his schedule.

About four minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At six minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At ten minutes:
A three-year-old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

At forty-five minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After one hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. 
There was no recognition at all. 
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. Two days before, Joshua Bell had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the very same music.

This is a true story. 
Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the DC Metro Station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.  
The experiment raised several questions:
  • In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
  • If so, 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 as we rush through life?

I received the preceding story via email and it seems of profound significance to me. 
Not only is it good to count the blessings that we have lying in piles around us, but it would be good, too, to keep an eye out for the unexpected gift of beauty . . . when and where we least expect it.


28 comments:

Wanda..... said...

Grandchildren taught me years ago, to slow down and really see, to be silent and really listen. I learned, if walking fast just down my long drive, I missed so many things. They stopped to touch and examine everything, from grit in the drive to weeds in the field.

I like this Hans Margolius quote:

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”

Pauline said...

I remember when the article appeared in the Washington Post. I wrote a post about it, too. I think, as much as we train ourselves to see beauty, we also train ourselves not to. Immanuel Kant says beauty is part measurable fact, part opinion, with both being colored by the observer's immediate state of mind. One must be paying attention to beauty, it seems, or at least to the possibility of beauty, in order to see it. Apparently, many of us would rather chain ourselves to something else.

rachel said...

What an astonishing and rather mortifying story! I shall pass it on; too meaningful not to. Thank you.

Sue said...

I too am mortified. I can't help wondering if I'd have stopped and listened. I'd like to think I would have.

Thank you for sharing the story.Very thought provoking.

Olga said...

Funny how we can think something we pay a lot of money for is more valuable or somehow better than what is there for free. I really liked this post.

Lucille said...

Sent by Rachel. Very glad I came.

Woodswalker said...

Great story, and one we need to remember. Thanks.

Hilary said...

So true. I know that photography has helped me to open my eyes to everyday bits of beauty which I'd never noticed or fully appreciated before. There are so many other ways to take it in though. Thank you for this reminder.

flwrjane said...

You have just caused me to tear up. Maybe that's why we love blogging. We sit , we read and we respond.

Thanks for Rachel for sending here.

ladyhawthorne said...

Wow, just shows me once again how much we need to slow down in this world. I often long to live in a slower time without all the modernity that consumes people.

Lord Wellbourne said...

You can't stop and smell the roses if you fail to acknowledge their existance. My mother taught me to appreciate the creative kind of beauty. My father taught me to appreciate the natural kind. I would have stayed as long as the music played(I love the violin). And, being the kind of guy I am, I would have probably been the poor guy's 'barker' and at least have doubled his income. $32 bucks in D.C. barely gets you coffee and a danish.

Jinksy said...

I'm sure if I'd been lucky enough to be there, my ears would have glued me to the spot for the whole 45 minutes. That was the effect Joshua Bell had on me when I first heard him on the radio!

Grandmother said...

A humbling reminder. Stop, look, listen, appreciate.

Barb said...

I've read this story previously but was reminded again, reading it here, how we might "miss" many opportunities to appreciate beauty (in many forms) when our minds (and bodies) are scurrying off in other directions. Recently, I encountered a young man playing a harp he had wheeled in a wagon along with his possessions to sit on the sidewalk in front of a coffee shop. He was a gifted musician - obviously in a world of his own as he murmured to himself between songs. People averted their eyes and hurried past, not knowing what to make of him. I sat listening for awhile, allowing the music to settle around me, wondering what his story was. Only that one time did I hear him and then he was gone (but obviously not gone from my memory). I'll send this story on to my family and some friend who I think might appreciate it. Thanks for reminding me to try and possess the wonder of a child more often!

Von said...

Oh so very true, if we don't have time to stop and listen to the Bach what hope is ther efor us?

Morning Bray Farm said...

Thank you for the reminder June. How very true... and what an important lesson. It's all over before we know it, so we'd better do our best to enjoy it and make the most of it.

Linda Myers said...

I think I would stop and listen, but not too close, in case he was a homeless guy or drunk and expecting something from me.

How embarrassing!

My husband would forge on ahead. I'd look up, see him a ways off, and hurry to catch up.

My loss. Thanks for the post.

Lord Wellbourne said...

OMG! I can't believe that last comment!!!!! A homeless person playing like Joshua Bell is entitled to the same respect Mr. Bell deserved in D.C. A little appreciation and a quarter wouldn't kill you I think, Ms. Myers. A 'drunk' would hardly be able to wield a violin let alone play Paganini. I agree...that was an embarrassing and unfortunate statement.

Arthur Ransome said...

Also sent by Rachel and glad I came.

June said...

Wanda, you've provided me with my latest "personal email signature" line. I love that quote.

Pauline, as I went through my day yesterday, I thought about the "training to not see beauty" and maybe we see beauty in things other than the obvious. Maybe the people who hurried by were noticing other beautiful things...?

Rachel, it does give one pause, doesn't it? Good to keep in mind, anyway. And thank you for sending so many people this way!

Lady Hawthorne, slowing down... What a concept... Do you think we can do it?

Lucille, flwerjane, Arthur Ransome: Thank you for dropping by and letting me know you were here.

Linda, I fear I'm in the same boat with you. I would love to think that I would stop and enjoy the show. I am not at all sure that I would . . . and while I agree in principle with Lord W, that homeless people deserve respect and attention, my reason for not stopping might be the same as yours. I have to say I admire your honesty.

Lord W, I can just imagine you pulling in the crowds...quietly and charmingly, so as not to interrupt the performance.

MBF, Grandmother, Barb, Von, Woodswalker, Hilary, Olga, Sue: I knew you would get it with this one.

Sightings said...

If he had had an attractive girl in a bikini holding that hat, he would've done a lot better. Don't get mad at me -- it's sad, but true.

June said...

Ayuh, Sightings, you're right.

fiftyodd said...

I play classical music whenever I have my tiny grandchildren in my car. I notice that they listen and love it.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

I'm intrigued to see that , for some , his lack of permanent abode might render a musician unsuitable to listen to ! Does the same hold for painters and poets ?

Friko said...

take anything out of context and it assumes a wholly different character.

Bell playing in the Metro is an impossibility, it just cannot happen. Therefore it didn't.

BTW, how man people would recognise Bach being played, while they are rushing about, their thoughts elsewhere, unless they are musicians themselves?

Friko said...

In reply to Smitonius and Sonata I'd like to call them what they are: tramps and vagabonds, the lot of 'em.

Get rid of 'em, I say. Musicians? The worst of the lot.
I should know.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

As indeed should I . It never ceases to amaze me exactly how much space a double bass needs to feel at home , not to mention its minder .

Freda said...

I shall pass the story on too. And Yes, it really does make me think about how much we miss by rushing through life. Thanks for sharing it.